Littorai Visit and Tasting Report

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Littorai is a Sonoma based winery focused on the sustainable production of high end Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Founded in 1993 by Heidi and Ted Lemon, they seek out sites with outstanding potential then let those vineyards reveal their unique character in the wines they produce.

I visited Littorai a month or so ago and got a chance to see first hand what makes them special. When you talk about "off the beaten path" in Sonoma it has an entirely different meaning than in Napa. If you think a small mailbox with a family name is charming, try visiting Littorai. They take take it to the next level. Ask for a visit and you'll be greeted with directions and a gate access code for a property you'd never find on your own with no signage whatsoever.
Founder, owner, and head winemaker Ted Lemon can seem like the grown-up in the room when extolling the virtues of terroir driven wines, balance, and the potential for California Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. What resonated with me about his message is that he's not looking simply to emulate Burgundy in California. He's looking to embrace the unique characteristics and capabilities of each site and deliver wines that speak purely to that site.

When I visited I met with assistant winemaker John Wilson who most recently worked with highly regarded Thomas Rivers Brown of Schrader/Outpost/Rivers Marie fame. He took me for a tour around the thirty acre site - only three of which is dedicated to vines in the form of The Pivot vineyard. The site is also home to Littorai's winery which is built with hay bale walls and features gravity flow wine movement.

We tasted through the Littorai Chardonnays first. Ted Lemon says "Chardonnay's first duty is to make you forget red wine." These white wines were brilliant and delicious and made me think I should drink more white wine - especially Chardonnay of this style. They're flavorful and powerful yet elegant and light. Really pretty.

The Pinot Noirs showed fabulously as well, each with different characteristics that rang true to the Littorai focus of letting sites speak for themselves. All of the Littorai single vineyard Pinot Noirs are made exactly the same way. The only difference is the site.

My only complaint with the tasting experience is that it was a little chilly so it was hard to differentiate the Pinots as much as I'd have liked to. The room felt south of 55F and I like to taste Pinot in the low to mid 60Fs.

When I got home I had a chance to sit down and spend some quality time with a 2010 Littorai Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. It was a beauty. Here are my thoughts on that wine:

2010 Littorai Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
13.3% alcohol

Aromatically expressive immediately upon opening with rounded edges of strawberry and raspberry fruit, spice box, and tea notes. Elegant on the palate with a touch of acidity and tannic grip, it's a pleasure to drink.

Serious, but not overly so. This wine succeeds in finding the intersection between being terroir-driven and letting the site speak for itself and revealing the California sunshine. A tremendous introduction to the producer.

93/100 WWP: Outstanding

Lemon was named winemaker of the year in 2010 by The San Francisco Chronicle. Check out this excellent piece by Jon Bonne.

Littorai's wines can be hard to track down. You can do a search for retailers in MA that sell the wine but you won't currently find any. But check out The Urban Grape in Chestnut Hill if you're in the area. They've got a bunch of 'em. Case club?

You can sign up for their mailing list by visiting their website:

Question of the Day: Have you visited Littorai or tasted their wines? If so, what did you think? Either way, what are some of your favorite terroir-driven California producers?


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