of the saddest developments in the Great California Wine Industry
Shakeout of the past several years (at least up until the implosion of
the House of Mondavi) was the bankruptcy of DeLoach Vineyards.
This family-run winery in Sonoma County was producing excellent wines
at fair prices ‚€“ especially Chardonnay and Pinot Noir ‚€“ long before
we paid attention to the Russian River Valley appellation as a top
source for those grapes. In the great wine boom of the ‚€˜90s the winery
expanded too fast, and when boom turned to glut they were left with
excess inventory and no way to sell it.
This story could have followed a typical pattern in which great
California wine names like Paul Masson, Almaden, Inglenook and Mondavi
get bought up by corporate giants solely for their brand recognition and
get turned into plonk. (Is it happening now with other ‚€œbrand‚€
names, beginning perhaps with B and R?)
Fortunately for us, however, DeLoach Vineyards was purchased by Boisset America, the oeno-imperialist branch of the Boisset family of Burgundy negociant fame. Boisset has some nice wines in its portfolio (Louis Bernard from the Rhone, among others) as well as some that scream ‚€œCASH FLOW!‚€ and clumsy marketing (the unfortunate Lulu B), so it could have gone either way with DeLoach. But Jean-Charles Boisset,
the 36-year-old family scion in charge of Boisset America, wisely
decided to keep DeLoach‚€™s focus on Burgundian varietals and techniques
and refocus the winery on quality.
To accomplish that end, Boisset decided to shrink the winery‚€™s
production from 320,000 cases annually to 110,000 and reduce the product
line from 48 wines to 17 (though that has increased slightly to 25 with
the recent addition of some single-vineyard bottlings). He also
converted 22 acres of estate vineyards to biodynamic farming, which has
not yet shown up in the wines as it involves replanting the vineyards
after letting the soil lay fallow.
Boisset‚€™s wisest choice may have been to hire Greg La Follette
as winemaker. La Follette is an expert in Burgundian winemaking
techniques whose resume includes stints working with California icons Zelma Long and Andr√© Tschelistcheff.
Washington political junkies will appreciate La Follette‚€™s family
relation to ‚€œFightin‚€™ Bob‚€ La Follette of Wisconsin progressive
politics fame. ‚€œPinot-philes‚€ (his word) will recognize La Follette
as the original winemaker at Flowers Vineyard, a
relatively new Sonoma County winery that quickly gained cult status for
its Pinot Noir.
I met Boisset and La Follette recently over dinner at Washington‚€™s
IndeBleu restaurant, where they re-introduced the winery‚€™s line to
some DC-area writers. Their enthusiasm for rebuilding De Loach is
contagious. But of course, the proof is in the glass. Here are my
impressions of the wines we tasted that night, with suggested retail
2004 O.F.S. Sauvignon Blanc ($20): Rich and full with
tropical stonefruit flavors, not big in the grass like a blowsy Kiwi,
more of the ‚€œnew California‚€ style. Only later did I realize it was
packing a whopping 14.6% alcohol; this is a rare Sauv Blanc that can
handle so much alcohol. Only 432 cases produced.
2004 Russian River Valley Chardonnay ($16): Tropical
mixed with apple flavors and a good balance of oak and malolactic
fermentation. Medium-long finish. Value priced. 10,845 cases produced.
2004 O.F.S. Chardonnay, ($?). Richer than the Russian River bottling, showing more complexity and elegance. 818 cases produced.
2004 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($18). Silky
texture with berry and cherry flavors bolstered by enough woodsy spice
to give it interest, complexity and structure. Very competitive in this
price range. 5,150 cases produced.
2003 O.F.S. Pinot Noir ($?). If you‚€™re not a convert
to Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, this one ought to convince you.
Still fairly young, this Pinot is already showing complex flavors of
fruits, spices, wood and smoke. Each sip is sort of like reading Joseph
Campbell‚€™s take on Star Wars ‚€“ you realize there‚€™s a lot more to
it than you thought. 1,067 cases produced.
We also tasted two other Pinots Noir, a 2004 30th Anniversary Cuv√©e and
a 2004 Maboroshi Vineyard, that were outstanding but produced in
extremely limited quanitites (only about 300 cases each).
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