The Speed of Life at Alquimista Cellars

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Memorial Day 2020

25th May 2020 @ 14:15 by


This Memorial Day I will be playing the bagpipes at our local cemetery, as I have done for many years, with the exception of last year when my right hand was incapacitated by a stroke. Therefore, for me personally and for all of us who have been sheltering-in-place all these weeks, it feels good to resume a simple act of gratitude. There seldom are crowds at the cemetery when I play and spacing is always respectful on this day, so I am resuming this tradition of thanks to those who have given their lives for all of us, so that we could maintain our everyday-way-of-life, however that may look at this time.

My fingerwork on the chanter, the main note-playing pipe, is still far from perfect, and it may never be the same. But it is good enough to play “Amazing Grace” and “Taps” for those who have fallen. I will give my best to the memory of America’s best on Monday, however imperfect my best may now be.

We have a new group of The Best who now need to be remembered for their sacrifice. These are the health care and essential workers who, in putting their lives on the line to keep us safe and care for those who have fallen ill, have themselves perished. I will take a minute of silence to remember those whose uniforms were surgical scrubs, lab coats, police badges, firefighter and paramedic boots, grocery clerk and stocker aprons, delivery togs and farming blue jeans. As I stand playing the pipes next to my father-in-law’s grave, a man who saw while wearing a Navy uniform, Pearl Harbor being bombed, I will remember all of these brave people, all of them, with a simple tune followed by a minute of silence. One minute now, but a lifetime of never forgetting.

Awe begin to resume our busy lives, let us use all of their examples of sacrifice to allow us to do the right thig so that we do not ask even more sacrifice of our health care and essential workers. Social distancing, wearing face coverings, washing hands, observing best-practices for health department guidelines means we are not just being polite or considerate, we are also acknowledging that we owe their safety to our own behavior.

So on this Memorial Day, let us indeed remember and let us dedicate ourselves to the safety of others in a new expression of gratitude to all of those to whom we owe so much.

Be Well,

Greg La Follette

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhoods

1st May 2020 @ 10:01 by

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhoods

Last week I attended a remarkable virtual meeting of growers and winemakers of the Russian River Valley Winegrowers Association (RRVWGA). The purpose was to hear a report from a “Neighborhoods” committee tasked with distinguishing neighboring tracts of land that are not only defined by geographic features, but also bear their own unique chemical and sensory fingerprints. This investigation has yielded a large body of data, much of which already been generated by UC Davis. More definitive information will be forthcoming, but for a teaser, check out this video on the Russian River Valley Neighborhoods for more information. What really bowls me over, as a scientist and long-time winegrower, is how the elemental chemistry is really showing just how each neighborhood is unique, and even more importantly, it validates what generations of winegrowers have been saying for years. Each neighborhood is distinct and that the wines produced from their vineyards owe much of their uniqueness to their neighborhoods. This is like being in Burgundy hundreds of years ago with everyone agreeing: “This is definitely Batard Montrachet, and is different than Montrachet” and then leapfrogging forward those hundreds of years, having scientific analytical tools to validate all of this. It is a thunderclap. It is a huge validation of the palates of winegrowers all over the world, teasing out the nuances of their plots of land. Dumas once said, hundreds of years ago, that a great Montrachet should be approached “bare-headed and kneeling”. What did we know 30 years ago that science is just now discovering in our own Northern California backyards? This is just the beginning for those of you who have the science background to interpret the data and see for yourselves how important this is. And for those of you who have the palates to dare to experience and lodge the differences in your own internal data banks, we are on the edge of something truly important in the understanding of terroir, and of ourselves as creatures of sensory discrimination.

As excited as I am about the findings of our research, I’d like to speak further on what was remarkable about this recent video conference. The people who make up the RRVWGA are indeed remarkable, in their own quiet way. I have seen many of these winemakers grow up, experience the first joys of becoming parents, carry that through with steadfast parenting even through their kids’ teenage years (a remarkable feat in and of itself), carry on legacy of their elders and all the while sharing and caring for each other through fire, flood and financial woes. They are humble, collegial, and mostly unheralded but share a single purpose: to grow grapes that make some of the best and most well-cherished wines on the planet. In that sense, we here in Sonoma County, in the Russian River Valley, are making wines for all of the remarkable people out there, for those who, unheralded, go about the business of living life, raising children, caring for others in so many ways. We make wines to celebrate your lives, be it just a quiet evening at home with loved ones or a special occasion. We do that for ourselves; we do it for you.

In Vino Veritas,

Greg La Follette

A Spring Message

12th Apr 2020 @ 12:13 by

Happy Passover, Easter and Spring from Alquimista Cellars

Listen to and watch Greg in his Gravenstein apple orchard, as he sends a message of hope and renewal, and also describes some of the things going on in the vineyard right now.

Click to view!
Greg's Spring Message
Greg's Gravensteins

Alquimista April 2020 Newsletter

30th Mar 2020 @ 12:32 by

A Perilous Spring Among the Vines

Spring frost in the vineyards

Surrounded as we are by uncertainty, our instinct for self-protection tells us to look for what is predicable and dependable. I count myself among the lucky ones in that I am an agriculturist and my work has been deemed “essential” by the powers-that-be, so I am in the vineyards and winery as an AG producer on a daily basis, working to make the agricultural product called “wine” for all. This is my certainty. The vines are now budding out and growing like gangbusters, heedless of the chaos around them and reaching for the skies, requiring our undivided attention to their efforts.

But grapevines have challenges of their own these days, the primary one being frost damage after early bud break, damaging many of the tender young shoots that have come out too early due to a dry, warm late winter and early spring. What makes matters worse for our growers is that overhead sprinklers among the vine rows for water are no longer a viable option for frost protection, due to a shortage of water in our streams and ponds.

How does sprinkling water on grapevines reduce frost damage? Water has latent heat when it is converted from a liquid to a solid (ice) and gives up that heat to its surrounding environment (young buds) when conditions are freezing. Furthermore, when it gets even colder, a capsule of ice can protect tender green tissues from deeper damage, sort of how an igloo, though made of ice and snow, can protect its inhabitants from even harsher weather outside.

So how do we protect our young shoots from freezing weather without the use of sprinklers when early bud break exposes the vines to regular March freezes? Smudge pots, the heating devices that have been pictured in older movies about vineyard life and that many may have seen up to the late 1980s, are expensive, dirty (mostly now illegal due to air regulations) and relatively less effective than other means. Wind machines, giant propeller blades that stir the cold air and can protect buds down to the very high 20s, are mostly now employed. Cold air is like water – it flows down to the lowest point and settles there. Wind machines can stir that air up and bring down warmer air, including inversion-layered air, so that the vines do not experience the damage from heat loss due to radiative frost.

The goal is not only to protect the photosynthetic machines (leaves) that will ripen our fruit this year, but to protect the fruit itself this year and the buds forming now that will produce fruit next year. The danger is that this recent frost could bring a double whammy; damaging clusters for this year and destroying entire buds that contain next year’s crop.

The other morning, I awoke at 4:30 a.m. to the cacophony of these wind machines, sounding somewhat like a helicopter that doesn’t move away, vibrating through my neighbor vineyards. After fixing steel-cut oatmeal laced with the last (relatively – still good for cooking as they are wrinkled but sound) fresh apples of our trees from last year, I headed out to the vineyards to have a look for myself.

I did see growers out there, checking buds and making sure each wind machine was operating properly. Our mutual concern was palpable. A few hours later in the day, the damage was apparent, with crisped young leaves that would turn black in the next day or two, hopefully haven given their all so that the inner unfolding buds that hold this year’s crop will not have been frozen, as well. In one meeting with a grower, I pulled a bottle of Chardonnay from my truck and a couple of glasses, and we toasted to better times, and to our lifestyle which is fraught with uncertainty with each frost season. It was a brave act of not defiance but of acceptance of all that the land gives us.

For us all of us in these uncertain times we farmers endure another layer. It is called weather. But none of us Aggies would swap it for a minute with a Wall Street trader. We are The Land. We ARE the soil. Come hell (fires) or high water (or the lack thereof), we are Sonoma County Strong. And we will continue making wine for you and your family, to celebrate what is good and right and worth celebrating in our lives.
Support the dirt,
Greg La Follette

Alquimista March 2020 Newsletter

7th Feb 2020 @ 14:07 by

Announcing the Arrival of Futures!

What’s a better way to celebrate winter than tasting through the 2019 barrels in Alquimista’s cellar? We are happy to announce that our 2019 wines are moving along and mostly ready for barrel tasting, and we will begin selling futures of these wines beginning now. Though a couple of the wines are still struggling to finish primary fermentation, the majority have pushed through even malolactic fermentation and are now starting to take shape.

In addition to our classic Pinots and Chards, we seem to have become a home for some of the most ancient vines in the world, making wine from some of the oldest plantings in CA and beyond. Here are some of the highlights, featuring the brand-new (for us) ancient vineyards:

Bechthold ancient vines cinsault - photo by Randy Caparoso Photography
Photo by Randy Caparoso Photography

  • Bechthold Vineyard Cinsault: This is the oldest Cinsault vineyard in the world! Planted in sandy Mokolumne River soils on its own roots and owned by Greg Burns’ family vineyard Jessie’s Grove, this ancient planting is muscular, brooding and dramatic with its smoked meats and visceral muskiness. This is shaping up to be an epic wine that should not be missed!

  • The “1900 Block” Carignane, also from Greg Burns, is just 12 years younger than the Carignane that represents about 8% of our Ancient Vines Jessie’s Grove Zinfandel and also on its own roots in sandy soils. 4% Fontainebleau Golden Chasselas, an ancient table grape originating in eastern Turkey and the birthplace of Vitis vinifera, contributes a forward fruitiness with its whole-cluster semi-carbonic voice to the overall presentation of charcuterie forwardness to this wine.

  • “Three Century Vines” French Colombard: from the 1896-planted Betty Ann Vineyard & the 1950s Wes Cameron Vineyard, this wine is actually not for sale from Alquimista but you can taste it with us only when you come to our cellar. It is the house white wine that we made for Single Thread Farms from the 2018 Vintage, where you can purchase it off their tasting menu. We will be making this limited wine for our wine club members only in the upcoming 2020 vintage, so this is a sneak preview.

We also have a new addition to our Pinot and Chard line-up: rock-star viticulturist Jim Pratt’s fruit. Greg has worked with Jim since the mid-90s at Flowers and has wanted to put his name on a bottle for years and years. We were able to obtain a very small amount (about 70 cases worth) of his home ranch Irwin Old Wente Chard and a bit more of his Pinot from Hall Road. Known as one of the very best vinemen in West Sonoma County, Jim has been the green thumb behind a number of great bottlings over the years. These wines are also now in barrel and await your tasting and purchase as part of our futures program.

Come and join us in the cellar this winter and spring and revisit some of your old faves, including van der Kamp (the 2019 Meunier is cellar-stellar!), Manchester Ridge, Hawk’s Roost, Lorenzo, Haiku and Mes Filles vineyards. The 2018s are mostly still in barrel and available to taste and purchase as futures.

Please note: all futures can be ordered as magnums or any size of large-format bottles you wish! Ideal for commemorating special events in your life, we can produce something very special for you and your family and friends. We consider such celebrations to be the best use of our wines!

Looking forward to raising the glasses together soon,
Greg La Follette, Alquimista Cellars

A Sonoma County Holiday, 2019

2nd Jan 2020 @ 10:55 by

Reflections on the Past Three Years in Sonoma County

As Christmas is now barely in the rear-view mirror and New Year’s Day coming up fast in Sonoma County, we have much loss on which to reflect, and much to be grateful for in the coming year. It is not a stretch to say that the defining events of 2017 and 2019 have been the disastrous fires in The North Bay, most of it inflicted upon Sonoma County. My co-winemaker/proprietor of Alquimista Cellars, Patrick Dillon, has written eloquently about first response and what we were all doing in the throes of the Tubbs fire in his “Alquimista Cellars, Earth, Wind, Fire and 500 Frittatas”.

As a summary, Patrick cooked (he’s also a chef as well as a Pulitzer-prize-winning writer) – his most recent book was a cookbook (Open Range) – for 500 people a day. Evacuation centers (including my family) and first-responders were recipients of his culinary skills from the CERES kitchen, a place where teenagers are normally trained in the culinary arts and then the meals are delivered to seriously-ill patients at their homes. After October 9th 2017, the kitchen was turned into a culinary command-center, feeding those displaced and those fighting the blazes. We were almost all volunteering in one way or another; my wife was a volunteer for almost a year at the Sonoma County 2-1-1 center.

You may have heard this saying before, and I always thought “isn’t that nice” in a polite sort-of-way when I heard it about other places, but after having lived it myself, we are “Sonoma Strong”. As Patrick chronicled, the best came out in almost everyone. Food from stores and restaurants, clothes, blankets, all kinds of goods that we all take for granted on a daily basis (hot water and electricity are SOO under-rated!) and volunteers, so many that the county had a hard time finding tasks for everyone who wanted to help. And the giving continues through this 2019 giving season.

And yes, now it is Christmas season. The last FEMA assistance center is open (once again, now 2019), and we are cleaning up. Here are some stats for our North Bay area alone:

  • The death toll is 44 for the Tubbs fire alone. As with the Camp Fire in Paradise CA where twice as many people died in 2018, some missing may never be found.
  • In the North Bay, over the two years of fires in the North Bay, $11.5 Billion in insurance claims have been registered. Compare with Katrina, at $41.1B (the worst disaster in US history), and the Oakland Hills fire (previous worst in CA history) at $1.3B.
  • $9B of that is from Sonoma County, the hardest-hit of the fires.
  • 5400 homes were destroyed and over 12,000 damaged, including 5+% of the Santa Rosa housing stock with another 5% damaged.
Imagine 10% of your town destroyed or damaged. Compared again to the Paradise fire where most of the town burned to the ground, in my own neighborhood, over 1,300 homes were destroyed in Coffey Park, deep into Santa Rosa. During the Kincade fire of this year, our winery was evacuated and for 8 days we could not get in to manage the active ferments and recently barreled wines. During that time, we would have logged about 60 hours or more working with the wines and, as a result of our inability to tend to our wines during that time, we are dealing with more sluggish and stuck ferments and very unhappy lees (read: reduced aromas) in the barrels than I have had to deal with in just about all of my vintages combined. Our main tenant is to push the envelope on our winemaking. As I like to say, it is easier to be right there when your kids are starting to teeter on the rails and give them a nudge here and there rather than waiting for them to go off the rails and having to get everything back on track. How does this work (or not,) for this vintage? Because we “don’t practice safe winemaking”, including:
  • Using native (“wild” yeast or uninoculated) fermentations.
  • Push our yeast to their limits of heat tolerance with warmer fermentations.
  • Go to barrel “sweet and dirty” – not finishing ferments comfortably in tanks and then settling out solids before going to barrel.
  • Eschew yeast nutrients and fermentation aides, relying on the wines to form their own stress aromas for increased complexity rather than keeping them fat and happy.
We are hard at work now trying to rectify some of the problems borne of 8 days of unattended yeast without power, water or our hands helping to guide and partner with the yeast. Our financial losses are as yet unknown but will run into the many of thousands of dollars before all is said and done.

So what is happening today outside of our little winery? Here are some more figures for Sonoma:
  • November hotel occupancy rate remains in Santa Rosa at 85% due to fire victim housing, the highest it has been in the last 13 years in this 2-year period, since significant new hotel rooms were built.
  • The long-term occupancy tax by the county has been waived and pricing of rent and/or hotel fees for fire victims is at 45% of seasonal rates.
  • A new County office has been created: “Recovery and resilience” office is assisting the affected
  • Sonoma County lost tens of millions in revenue shortfall due to the fire
  • Volunteering is still at an all-time high with personal time and resources almost overwhelming some charitable organizations
On a personal note, my good friends for whom I make wine under the Ancient Oak wine label lost everything in the Tubbs Fire, excepting their lives. They barely made it out of their burning ranch and vineyard, with seconds to spare. Their neighbors just above them on the ridge were not so lucky and perished in the blaze. I am lucky enough to have my oldest son safe, after fleeing his home moments before it burst into flame.

Just about everyone in Sonoma County has either been directly affected by these disastrous fires or directly knows/works with people who have lost so much. But in this time, I no longer look at a dirty bathtub after the grandkids have bathed or a leaky roof or a pile of dirty dishes in the sink. Heck, we have HOT water, a roof over our heads, and cluttered cutlery and crockery means we have loved ones to feed and the means to do so. I will never, ever, complain about a stack of after-dinner wash-up again.

I’ve always said I’m the luckiest man I know. I have 6 beautiful children and now grandchildren, have raised them alongside my wife in the wineries and vineyards I lived in and tended, and get to do something I absolutely love doing on a daily basis: grow and make wine. This season reinforces those sentiments and I remain, yours truly, the luckiest man I could imagine.

So let’s all raise a glass to our continued good fortune, no matter what our current station may be, and look forward to a 2020 with the abundance of friends, family, and fulfillment - the “things” that really matter most to us all.

In Vino Veritas,
Greg La Follette, Alquimista Wines

Sonoma County Wineries Expect Exceptional 2019 Values

11th Dec 2019 @ 18:07 by

Wine Region’s Spectacular Grape-Growing Season Provides Anticipation for a Stellar Vintage

With Mother Nature’s support, the 2019 growing season provided fantastic grape growing conditions.

“This has been a nearly ideal winegrowing season in Sonoma County,” says Sonoma County Vintners Executive Director Michael Haney. “There was just the right amount of heat early in the growing season to acclimate the grapes, mild temperatures continued throughout the season and offered superior flavor development.”

Read more of this article by Sonoma County Vintners - and make plans to visit one of the Sonoma County Wineries producing exemplary wines.

With this outstanding fruit, spring 2020 will be a perfect time to visit Sonoma County tasting rooms. Take in the vineyard views with fresh bud break and vibrant flowers cover crops in the vineyard rows. Enjoy exclusive experiences at wineries that offer barrel samples of 2019 wines and the opportunity to purchase the wine ahead of the bottling date. To learn more about Sonoma County wineries and to purchase wines directly from these wineries visit: or contact


Join Us for A Special Russian River Event!

1st Dec 2019 @ 18:31 by

A Wonderful Time to Visit!

Join us for a special Russian River Valley Event, celebrating the resilience of the wine industry and Sonoma County after the devastating Kincade fire this past fall.

Half priced shipping on 12-bottle cases and a special winemaker curated exploration with verticals! Please email us to inquire about fees and learn more!

Greg La Follette on his Practice of Terroir

1st Dec 2019 @ 18:15 by

In this article originally published in and written by Fred Swan, our own Greg La Follette is interviewed about his unique approach to bringing forth the 'terroir', or character of a wine that is driven by its environment.

"Greg LaFollette sometimes takes yet a different tack on exposing terroir. A prolific and influential winemaker and viticulturist, LaFollette has shaped wineries including La Crema, Hartford Court, and Flowers, and planted some of Russian River Valley’s top vineyards. He is now winemaker and partner at Alquimista Cellars. LaFollette will discern the signature characteristic of a plot and then, if warranted, use viticultural techniques, but minimalist winemaking, to emphasize that fingerprint."

Scroll down to read more!

Getting to the Root of Terroir

Winemakers discuss how to best reveal site specificity

Terroir is a construct, a catch-all for the elements of a place that lead its wines to smell, taste, and feel a certain way. In some cases, the personality of a site’s wines is very consistent, allowing experts to identify it routinely in blind tastings. But the possibility of such distinctive character leads some to dogmatic judgments, insisting on a particular complexion for wines from a given vineyard and, sometimes, denigrating wines that deviate.

Humans crave a degree of consistency, but too much rigidity in wine appreciation puts analysis above exploration and appreciation. It oversimplifies, confining terroir in a small box. That also limits the depth of our understanding of a site.

It’s true some wines are made in a way that renders them simple or generic. Extreme ripeness, or under-ripeness, is an enemy to fruit complexity. Excessive oak conceals underlying signatures of variety and site. Certain commercial yeasts can create misleading flavors, allowing, for example, a Northern Hemisphere Sauvignon Blanc to resemble those from New Zealand.

But, even putting all these things aside—along with additives and aggressive winemaking techniques—there are many things that affect a wine’s character and result in legitimate variation between offerings from the same vineyard by different producers.

Some variables, such as vine age, clone, rootstock, slope, and depth of topsoil, may lie with specific blocks or rows a producer is allocated. Then, there are choices about trellising, timing and amount of irrigation, cover crop, tilling, and harvest date, which can vary based not just on stylistic preference, but also on micro-terroir and the character of the specific vines. All these options suggest that very specific judgments about what is, or is not, a correct representation of terroir are dubious.

Even given identical blocks, there can be a wide range of wholly legitimate site expressions. The decisions affecting the outcome start with pruning and finish with choice of a release date. Accepting, and even encouraging, this variety and trying the wines with an open mind delivers more insight into the terroir.


Think of a vineyard as some other scene—a forest, perhaps. If you walk through the forest on a bright, summer day, you’ll experience one expression of its character. The light, colors, aromas, sounds, and feel of the air will be a certain way. You might find it peaceful or energizing.
But take the same walk on a moonless winter night, and your impression will be very different. The cold air bites at your skin. Colors are limited to shades of blue and black. The sounds and aromas are very different, too. In this case, the forest might make you feel lonely or fearful.

Those are two very different senses of exactly the same place, neither less valid than the other. Terroir—sense of place—is a human concept. It is only manifested through our individual senses and perspectives. Winemakers show us the way they see that terroir through their wines.

People often debate whether winemaking is craft or art. Craft connotes performance of a skilled profession to create an object, largely by hand. Art is the use of creativity and skill to create something valued primarily for its beauty or emotional resonance. Clearly, both apply to wine.

We can look at different wines from the same vineyard as we would representations of the same place by different painters or photographers—people who are at once artists and craftsmen. Any given landscape would easily be recognized, yet look very different, in works by van Gogh, Monet, and Seurat. Their different styles have stirred vehement debate among critics and enthusiasts alike as to which is better, more real, more evocative. But none of those works is inherently less valid than the others.

Photographers might represent a vineyard in hundreds of ways, selecting angles, lighting, time of day, camera, lens, filters, settings, retouching techniques, and output media. The appearance and moods created could be very different. Winemakers do the same. Viewers and tasters may disagree about which rendition is more pleasing, based on their own preferences and backgrounds. But if the wine is sound, distinctive, and reasonably transparent to site and vintage, there is no right or wrong.


Megan and Ryan Glaab of Ryme Cellars make two different Vermentino wines every year from Las Brisas Vineyard in Carneros. They label the wines “Hers” and “His.” Sometimes the Glaabs pick both lots of fruit on the same day. In 2017, they picked three weeks apart.

Megan pursues a fresh, bright style, similar to wines you might find on the Ligurian coast. She presses the grapes whole cluster and ferments only the juice. Her wine is bottled with minimal aging. Ryan’s approach is totally different and reflects his affinity for the minimally sulfured, skin-contact wines of producers such as Sardinia’s Tenute Dettori.

Skin contact in white wines, like stem inclusion in reds, is a subject of debate with respect to terroir. But, if skins for red wine grapes provide character most people consider essential to terroir, shouldn’t the skins of white wine grapes be at least acceptable?

“Many winemakers, including us, like to insist their job is to get out of the way and let the terroir speak for itself,” Megan Glaab says. “But that still happens through the lens of our own philosophies, aesthetics, and assumptions. The most basic decision we make once the grapes enter the cellar is whether to ferment the whole grape or the juice alone. That question is so fundamental, it doesn’t seem like a question at all. But the idea that either way better expresses terroir, based on the color of the skin of the grape, makes no logical sense. The joy of orange wine is that it can push against cultural assumptions and present the character of the variety and site through a different prism.”

Even with the same juice and far less divergent stylistic sensibilities, it’s extremely unlikely that two winemakers would wind up with precisely the same wine. In the 2010 New Zealand Riesling Challenge, 51 tons of Riesling harvested on a single day from the Waipara district were divided into 12 lots and shipped to as many winemakers. They were tasked with making a Riesling in any style they chose, but based at least 85% on that fruit.

Certain details about those wines—pH levels and the like—were never made public. But, from the information presented and from tasting the wines, it’s clear they were all unique. Alcohol percentages ranged from 8.5% to 12.8% and sugars from virtually dry to over 55 grams per liter. There were aromatic wines and subtle ones, floral and fruity, fresh and reductive.


General wine styles aside, there’s also divergence among winemakers on how best to expose terroir. Some do as little as possible, believing a minimalist approach allows site character to shine through. But even those producers may make slight changes in the regime, from one vineyard to the next, if the fruit seems to want that.

Others follow the same “recipe” for each vineyard, reasoning that, if the only variable is site, then terroir is revealed. Lagier-Meredith, in Napa Valley’s Mount Veeder AVA, uses this method to highlight differences between Syrah and Mondeuse Noir in varietal wines made from vines in adjacent rows. The one-size-fits-all approach can have downsides. For example, barrels that complement one clone of Pinot Noir may overwhelm another. But, with more robust grapes, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, that is less of a concern.

Trevor Durling, General Manager and Senior Winemaker at Beaulieu Vineyard, uses identical vinification as a learning tool, but not necessarily for wines to be released. “I feel that it is very important to understand the differences in terroir and where our grapes are grown across the Napa Valley,” he explains. “One way to better understand this is to run controlled trials in the winery, where I will harvest fruit at the same level of ripeness from different vineyard sites and treat them the same way during fermentation and barrel aging (same fermentation kinetics, tank sizes, and barrel selection, etc.). The only variation in the outcome of the wines, from a sensory and quality perspective, should be due to the terroir itself, rather than varying winemaking techniques. This quickly helps me understand what I can expect from each vineyard site. Once this is understood, I am much better equipped to adjust winemaking techniques accordingly to maximize the quality and hit the style target of each individual fermentation to produce the best wines possible.”

Greg LaFollette sometimes takes yet a different tack on exposing terroir. A prolific and influential winemaker and viticulturist, LaFollette has shaped wineries including La Crema, Hartford Court, and Flowers, and planted some of Russian River Valley’s top vineyards. He is now winemaker and partner at Alquimista Cellars. LaFollette will discern the signature characteristic of a plot and then, if warranted, use viticultural techniques, but minimalist winemaking, to emphasize that fingerprint.

“The more extreme the site, the more you need to partner with the land and really understand what it needs,” LaFollette says. “At the Manchester Ridge Vineyard, 2,200 feet up in the Mendocino Ridge AVA, it’s incredibly difficult to get the grapes ripe. There are unique floral notes to the terroir, but also savage and feral aspects which can dominate.”

“I use a carbohydrate repartitioning strategy in the vineyard, through selective leaf pulling and water deficits very early in the season, to steer the vines toward reproduction rather than vegetative growth. This also limits the number of clusters and the berries’ cellular division and expansion. The result is smaller berries with more concentration and greater phenolic ripeness at lower Brix.” That increases the ratio of floral to savory notes in the wine, while maintaining good acidity and moderate alcohol.

In the winery, you could say LaFollette further emphasizes the floral notes by doing nothing. Manchester Ridge’s challenging environment and low pH soil results in grape must with relatively little yeast assimilable nitrogen, or YAN. His non-supplemented, native fermentations are a slow progression of many yeasts, which become active and then die at different alcohol levels, each contributing their own personality, thus increasing complexity.

Those yeasts feed on the various forms of YAN, starting with the easiest to metabolize and ending with the most difficult. Phenylalanine is last. One byproduct of yeast’s phenylalanine consumption is 1-phenylethanol, which smells of rose petals. If LaFollette added yeast nutrients, such as diammonium phosphate, to compensate for the low YAN must of Manchester Ridge, the satiated yeasts might not get around to consuming phenylalanine and those floral notes would never be created. “Complexity is not an accident,” he says. “But this isn’t ‘safe’ winemaking, because things can go wrong with both native ferments and underfed yeasts.”

Ana Diogo-Draper, Director of Winemaking at Artesa Winery, changes her approach depending on whether she’s trying to represent the character of an AVA or a single vineyard, and depending on the attributes of each block within a vineyard. For example, she picks all Chardonnay based on pH. However, that pH varies by wine and its stylistic intent.

“For the Carneros blend, my goal is to showcase the incredible range of the AVA and its citrus profile with clean, crisp wine,” Diogo-Draper says. “So, we pick the fruit earlier to retain that brightness, and ferment in a combination of stainless steel and oak to enhance it in a way.”

“For our estate vineyard fruit,” she continues, “my goal is to showcase our unique terroir and clonal selection. For me, that’s achieved when fruit is picked at that clear inflection point in the pH/TA/Brix curve, and with low intervention winemaking and native fermentations. What I look for is an evident shift, in which the chemistry changes are harmonized with the flavor evolution. In sum, what I am experiencing in each block, flavor-wise.”

Diogo-Draper evaluates each block separately. “Within the vineyard, there are blocks that have a naturally lower pH than others, partly due to clonal differences but also row orientation. I am able to leave those grapes hanging longer, without sacrificing the brightness I am looking for; at the same time, we are able to produce grapes with a higher Brix as well as a distinctive fruit and textural profile.”

She also makes decisions on fermentation vessels, malolactic fermentation, bâtonnage, and aging block-by-block. “There are particular blocks that better display their fruit intensity and concentration when they do not go through secondary fermentation. I also taste our Chardonnay going through malolactic fermentations weekly, and decide then how it is affecting their structure, textural component, and fruit character. Malolactic fermentation and bâtonnage can be stopped at any given week if I feel they are overpowering the fruit. It’s the eternal quest for balance.”


There is no single way to best express the terroir of any vineyard. No wine is a concrete expression that tells the whole story. And, even if this were the ideal, it would impossible for multiple winemakers to reflect terroir in exactly the same way.

It’s better to think of wines as individual photographs, each capturing a vineyard at a moment in time from a specific perspective. One may resonate more with us than others, but we learn about the terroir by experiencing a variety of expressions from different people over multiple vintages.

– By Fred Swan

Originally published on Used with permission from the publisher.

The Romance of Winemaking

20th Nov 2019 @ 15:18 by

11/11/19 Greg La Follette - Harvest 2019

Now that harvest is winding down, it is once more time to reflect upon just why it is that we hose-draggers pursue our own version of heaven: the romance of winemaking.

During harvest, there are numbers of activities and dress codes that sum up just how romantic winemaking really is:
  • Cleaning out a pneumatic press at 4 AM. This entails getting inside of a very tiny space about 4’ off the ground, hose and scrub-brush in hand while crouched on your knees, getting completely soaked from grape skins and water showering you as you work to get the last pips and grape pulp out of the press. Dress is casual, usually involving rain gear with a hood.
  • Getting to stay up all night to process fruit (see above) that you spent most of the previous night picking. Attire is casual but gum boots are mandatory.
  • Punching down. This aerobic endeavor involves clambering up on top of an open-top fermentor and using your back along with any other muscles you can recruit to push all of the solid grape skins that have migrated to the top of the ferment (called the cap) back into the liquid portion. Attire and accessories: punch-down stick mandatory but shirts optional, especially after your cotton Tee is soaked with sweat after the first 3 tanks.
  • Shoveling out fermentors. Involves jumping into a freshly-fermented tank of grape skins after the new wine has been drained off. “Easy” tanks have a man-hole at the front of the floor of the tank that facilitate removal of the pomace (drained grape skins); more advanced shoveling is found with dairy tanks, where every single shovel- or bucket-load - goes overhead and into the basket press. Clothing is optional if you are doing this activity solely with your S.O. at 2 AM while Jimmy’s “Foxy Lady” is blasting over the winery sound system. I could go on – showering off all the accumulated juice in your hair at 3 AM because your wife has accused you of sticking to the bedding the night before, during the 2 hours you were horizontal but you don’t remember because that was too long ago, that kind of thing – but I won’t. What I will tell you is that I DO love winemaking so very much precisely because it does have many challenges, both physical and mental. In what other profession can you and your fellow hose-hounds rise to the challenge of putting your backs into your work, Herculean in nature and, at the end of the day, say “Mates, we did it!” while toasting yourselves with the veritable fruit of your own labor in glass?

Actually, during harvest any toasting being done is usually with a good sudsy pint or two. After all, you are all day and most of the night working with wine, wearing wine, racking wine, picking pips out of your hair and naval at the end of the day – probably all you want is a good beer at that point, along with a warm meal, a hot shower and a comfy bed. The glass of Pinot comes later, when you remember the harvest and toast to the land that affords you the chance to translate its voice into liquid sunshine. At the end of harvest, the one thing we winemakers always wear is a grateful smile.
Vint with Humor,
Punch Down - Patrick Dillon and Greg La FolletteHarvest at Alquimista Cellars
Harvest Hygiene - Alquimista CellarsPatrick Dillon, Alquimista Cellars Harvest