In recent months, I’ve tasted a lot of single-vineyard bottlings of Russian River Valley Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. So when the La Follette North Coast Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the 2014 vintage landed in my lap, I was curious to see how these larger, more all-encompassing appellated bottles would stack up to the specificity of single-vineyard counterparts.
The North Coast appellation encompasses a lot of territory across both Sonoma and Mendocino counties, so the range from which to source grapes is pretty far-reaching. Within the North Coast appellation, there are quite a few sub-appellations—including some of Sonoma County’s well-known appellations for growing these Burgundian varietals, like Russian River Valley and the soon-to-be Petaluma Gap (appellation approval currently pending). And while there is no doubt that the grapes sourced from North Coast are of high quality, they present a style that is more an amalgamation of climates and terroir, rather than zoning in on one specific climate and terroir like a single-vineyard wine does.
If you know anything about La Follette, then you know these wines are in excellent hands with Associate Winemaker Simone Sequiera. A traditionalist at heart with former experience in Burgundy, her wines always call upon a Burgundian style, and the estate adheres to a meticulous approach in the vineyard and a minimalist approach in the cellar. Sequiera is a winemaker who believes that the wines are made in the vineyard, so even with these more affordable North Coast bottlings, you can bet you are going to get a well-crafted bottle of wine.
The 2014 North Coast Chardonnay from La Follette is definitely made in a Burgundian style. This is not a buttery California Chardonnay—it seems that a some point, this clichéd phrase may no longer be relevant—but rather a crisp and refreshing Chardonnay that expresses itself clearly in the glass, unmasked by winemaking techniques. The grapes are harvested from Mendocino County and old vines on the Sonoma Coast. Aromatically, there are fresh notes of underripe honeydew melon, lemon curd, a touch of fresh-baked bread and a smoky characteristic. The grapes are fermented in both tank and barrel, bringing a nice balance of texture to the palate with its crisp edges and smooth mouthfeel. Those same notes of underripe honeydew melon are found in the mouth, with meyer lemon and white nectarine flavors. This is a very juicy and fresh Chardonnay with poignant acidity balanced by a gentle roundness at mid-palate.
A significant portion of the grapes for the 2014 North Coast Pinot Noir come from the Petaluma Gap area of the Sonoma Coast AVA. Petaluma Gap is primed to be the newest appellation in Sonoma County and their application to the TTB has been underway for almost a couple years now. The ruling should be given soon, but despite the bureaucracy, there is no denying that Petaluma Gap has already made a name for itself in the industry with their Burgundian varietal wines. The area is prone to wind and fog that rolls in from Petaluma through a ‘gap’ in the terrain—hence the name. Keeping that in mind when tasting the 2014 North Coast Pinot Noir, it seems to elicit that very cool, windswept terroir. There is good acid on the palate, a very light body, and tart fruit abounds. The nose is a bit reticent at first, but then brings spiced red cherry, bright strawberry and an almost stemmy aroma—it’s possible Sequiera used some stem-inclusion when fermenting the grapes for this wine, as is often the case when making wine in a Burgundian style. In the mouth, the light body and simple profile allows the malolactic fermentation to show through just a bit, alongside flavors of strawberry and baking spice. This wine is easy-drinking and would make an excellent match with foods like baked salmon and roasted pork tenderloin.
Given that these two wines each retail for $22, I am impressed by the quality. It is difficult to find a good price to quality ratio when it comes to Pinot Noir these days, so it is nice to see affordable bottles like this coming from such an esteemed winemaker. These wines are great for everyday-drinking occasions.