Littorai: Above the Best, In a World of Its Own

Let’s just say it, there are a lot of wineries that claim that they are the best (in their region, of all producers, of a certain grape varietal, etc). The idea of “the best” is, as I think we can all agree, largely subjective. Now, when we talk of a wine which is in and of itself completely different than anything else, I think that the classification “the best” no longer does that wine justice. How can you compare a wine so unique to others? When I speak about the wines of Ted Lemon from his Littorai winery, I never say they are the best, I say they exist in a world of their own. No other wines exist like Mr. Lemon’s.

There are a number of things that make Mr. Lemon and his wines special. For one he was the first American to be head winemaker at Domaine in Burgundy, Domaine Roulot. After that he was one of the pioneers of single-vineyard driven Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in Sonoma and Mendocino in the 1990s. He was an early proponent of organic viticulture and then biodynamic viticulture, and today is one of California’s, if not the world’s, foremost experts on the subject as it pertains to viticulture. He also, along with his wife, cultivates one of the most beautiful vineyards in California, the biodynamically farmed “Haven Vineyard” outside of Occidental in Sonoma. Wild flowers, butterflies, native-American bees, owls, high-grass, mixed in-between some of the most healthy and deeply rooted Pinot Noir vines I have seen in California. Without even tasting his wines, there is a sense of them being in a world of their own, and then there are the actual wines.

The focus is always on making the best wine from every vintage. The Littorai wines age for years, so much so that you can go to their website and look at how each vintage is currently showing, including recommendations on how long to age certain Littorai wines. I have had a Chardonnay from 1997 which still showed lots of youth and energy, and Pinot Noirs that at ten years still could have aged for another ten or more. The wines generally never rise above fourteen percent alcohol, yet are never green or under-ripe. In fact they tend to show a fair amount of California fruit, with each different vineyard adding its own savory or floral qualities.

Along with the Haven Vineyard, which the Lemon’s own, Littorai has been one of the earliest wineries to source from the Hirsch Vineyard and to make what many, myself included, believe to be the most distinct expression from that vineyard site. They also make wines from the Cerise and Savoy vineyards in the Anderson Valley of Mendocino, and the Mays Canyon, Charles Heintz and B.A. Thieriot Vineyards in Sonoma. All wines share in quality and differ in character. Tasting a selection of these wines at one time is like having a great conversation over dinner with a wide array of intelligent, insightful, creative and fun people. Would you call any of them “the best” or would you consider them people, unique in this world, whom you would like to get to know a whole lot better?

That is how I view the wines of Littorai and of Ted Lemon. That is why I am so excited to have Rachel Dixon, their National Sales Manager, at The Fearrington House on Wednesday, January 21st for an intimate wine dinner. We will taste a number of their single vineyard Pinot Noirs, including the Hirsch Vineyard. Executive Chef Colin Bedford and myself will be putting our heads together for the perfect pairings for these wines, and he will prepare a four-course tasting menu for the event.

I hope to you see you there, and cannot wait for you to experience these wines.

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