Fajita Pizza

Many people like fajitas.  Many people like pizza.  So, how about … a Fajita Pizza!  Ole!  Grazia!

Start marinade (see below) as early in the day as you like.


Start dough at 4p for dinner between 8p and 9p
1 cup warm water
2 tsp instant-rise yeast
3-1/4 cup bread flour
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup olive oil (extra virgin not necessary)
Combine ingredients and knead by hand for 10 minutes or machine
for 2 to 5 minutes. Coat dough ball in a thin film of olive oil, cover in plastic wrap and let rise in warm place.


About an hour before dinner time, turn the oven up as high as it will go.
Twenty to thirty minutes before dinner, roll dough out to 15” circle. [Or divide dough if you want to make two smaller pizzas.] Place on pizza screen if available, being careful not to press the dough into the mesh.  Cover with plastic wrap.

2 Tbs chili powder
2 Tbs ground cumin
1 Tbs ground coriander
1 tsp crumbled dried oregano
Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Ground cayenne to taste
1 pound beef skirt or flank steak, or chicken (thighs are best), cut into slices about 3 in. long and 1/4 in. thick. (I actually used duck, but My Lovely Wife wasn’t amused by the extravagance.  And honestly, the nuance of the duck was lost in this pie.)
2 medium bell peppers.  Any color will do, but I like red
1 medium onion, cut into thick slices
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1/4 cup water
3 cups freshly shredded cheese: cheddar, Monterey Jack, mozzarella, fontina, whatever you like
1/4 cup fresh chopped cilantro
1-1/2 cups chunky salsa, store bought is fine.  I like Pace.

In a large zip-lock bag, combine all of the ingredients except the cheese, cilantro and salsa.  Marinade for as long as you like.

While the dough is undergoing its final rise, place a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  When the oil is shimmering, pour the entire contents of the zip-lock bag into the skillet.  Cook until the meat is done, the vegetables have softened, and the liquid has evaporated.  Remove plastic wrap from dough and brush liberally with olive oil.  Spread salsa evenly over dough.  Spread contents of skillet evenly over salsa.  Evenly spread the cheese over the pizza.

Bake in rippin’ hot oven until crust nicely browns, about 10
minutes.  Remove pizza to a cutting board, sprinkle with cilantro, slice, and serve.

This would go nicely with a robust Italian or Spanish red wine or a good Mexican beer.

Serves 4 to 6.

Here are some wines to try with this pizza:

Cecchi Wines

La Fea Selección Especial 2018 with Deep Dish Pizza

Two Unusual Wines from Italy, and One of My Original Pizza Recipes

Altolandon Rayuelo

This recipe was derived from James McNair’s excellent New Pizza Don’t be discouraged by the one-star reviews, they are bogus, imho.  One dweeb complained that McNair didn’t cover such arcane techniques as cold fermentation.  Geez.  If you want a cold ferment, use room temperature water and let the dough rise in the refrigerator for 24 hours.  But, you’re not going to have pizza tonight, and you won’t taste the subtleties a cold ferment brings to dough under all those toppings

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Chateau Guiraud Sauternes 2015

Sauternes is the famous French appellation that is home to some of the greatest sweet wines in the world, and to which it is largely dedicated.  It lies within the Graves district of the Bordeaux region.

The wine of the same name is made primarily of Sémillon, but smaller amounts of Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle are often included.  The unique characteristic of Sauternes is that in years with just the right conditions, including cool, foggy mornings and dry, sunny afternoons, the grapes are plagued with Botrytis Cinerea, or Noble Rot.  This beneficial mold causes the grapes to shrivel, driving out water and leaving the fruit rich and loaded with sugar.   Winemakers must have a clear understanding of this phenomenon, as only the grapes that have been perfectly concentrated by the Botrytis will be picked, one by one.  It is very much a risky, hit-or-miss proposition, subject to many variables of weather and harvest.  Because of this, Sauternes’ are not made every year and are expensive.



This house originated as La Maison Noble du Bayle, but was purchased by the Bordeaux négociant Pierre Guiraud in 1766. They intentionally built up an atmosphere of mystery around the operation.  The domain remained in the Guiraud family until 1837, and, during this time they constructed the Protestant chapel that still stands today on the grounds of the estate.  The property was awarded the Premiers Cru [First Growth] Classé in 1855 in the classification system established by Emperor Napoleon III.

Château Guiraud

Over the years Guiraud has changed hands several times.  It was sold to the Bernard family in 1837; they eventually sold to the Maxell family; and the next owner was Paul César Rival.  In 1981, the estate was sold to the Narby family,  Canadians of Egyptian origin, and Xavier Planty was retained as manager in 1988.  The Narbys and Planty restored the business to its previous esteem  after standards slipped in the 1970s.  It changed hands again in 2006 when it was purchased by a four-man partnership of Planty, Robert Peugeot, Olivier Bernard, and Stephan von Neipperg. The partners removed the red wine grape varietals that had been planed in the 1930s, and modernized the cellars and winemaking equipment. A new drainage system was installed, and extensive replanting was conducted also.

 L to R: Olivier Bernard,  Stephan von Neipperg, Robert Peugeot, and Xavier Planty

The co-owners of Guiraud have other interests as well.  Planty is president of the Organisation for the Defence and Management of the Sauternes and Barsac appellations, and he represents the territory and its wines at the CIVB, the interprofessional council for Bordeaux wines. Peugeot is president and general manager of the company FFP. He is an influential gourmet and is also a member of the prestigious Club des 100 in Paris. Bernard is president of the Union des Grands Crus and is also manager of Domaine de Chevalier, the well-known first-classified growth in the Graves appellation. Von Neipperg runs, among others, Château Canon La Gaffelière and Château La Mondotte, both Premier Grand Cru Classé in Saint-Emilion.

In 2001, Guiraud established a conservatory of white-wine grape varieties, the only one of its kind in the world. This reserve contains 135 original strains of Sémillion and of Sauvignon Blanc. The mission is to maintain the diversity of the vines and ensure the sustainability of the vineyard.

Guiraud registered the term BioViticulture in 2010, a name reflecting their focus on organic farming and sustainable viticulture (they began farming organically in 1996).  The following year, the estate earned the status of full Agenace Bio (AB) organic certification.  Nature and a respect for biodiversity were driving factors (planting hedgerows, wild grass in between the vine rows, bird houses, and ‘insect hotels’) even before that. The whole running of the domain is ecologically minded, from the choice of energy and water supplies to the recovery of carbon dioxide during vinifcation.

“A study undertaken in the summer of 2010 revealed 635 species of insects and spiders in our vineyards. This illustrates the harmony that reigns in a well-balanced environment. The vine thus concentrates on the quality of its fruit.”
–Luc Planty, technical director de Château Guiraud

The Château Guiraud estate vineyard is 210 acres [85 hectares] planted to 65% Semillon and 35% Sauvignon Blanc. These two varietals are vinified separately before blending. The soil is a mix of sand, gravel, clay, and limestone on sloping hillsides which rise to 240 feet [73 meters] at their peak. At the bottom of the slopes the presence of natural springs ensures perfect drainage of the vineyard.  The vines average age is 25 to 30 years.

Any discussion of Sauternes is incomplete without mentioning the legendary Château d’Yquem, the most famous Saurternes of them all, and the only one granted the highest Premier Grand Cru Classé.  It is one of the longest-lasting (and expensive) wines in the world.   For example, “The 1811 Château d’Yquem is prized as one of the greatest wines in the history of Bordeaux, and one of the most supreme vintages ever produced. It was rated the ultimate ‘100 points’ by critic Robert Parker, and again 100 points by The Wine Spectator‘s Per-Henric Mansson in 1999.”  Although I tend to avoid pricing here on Winervana, as a point of reference the 2015 Guiraud Sauternes in a 375 mL half bottle sells for about $30.   The d’Yquem averages 10 times that at $300 for a half bottle.

Château Guiraud Sauternes 2015

A blend of 65% Sémillon and 35% Sauvignon Blanc, this 2015 is the fifth vintage to be certified as organic.  Vinification occurred in new French oak barrels.  The wine was aged for approximately 21 months in 90% new oak and 10% used.

This rich elixer is very deep gold in the glass.  The nose features dried apricots and citrus.  The apricots continue on the palate, backed up by pineapple, honey, an unctious mouthfeel, and nicely balanced acidity. Spendy but worth it.  Case production was about 5,800, and ABV is 13.5%

Note: Chaptalization, or sugaring, is the procedure of adding sugar to grape juice or must prior to or during fermentation.  This is done when natural grape sugars aren’t high enough to produce reasonable alcohol levels.  The process is legal in France and Germany, but not in California and Italy.  Planty is committed to using the least possible amount of chaptalization in his winemaking.


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Brutocao Cabernet Sauvignon Vertical

Here at Winervana, I use this disclaimer, “Although you will see vintage dates throughout Winervana, I don’t put too much importance on them. Major producers these days strive for a consistent style, year after year, and largely succeed. For instance, when shopping for a particular wine, if you have a choice between a current release and one that’s a few years old, there will certainly be differences in price and the character of the wine. But upon release, those two examples of the same wine are likely to be quite similar.”

To test that position, I acquired a “vertical” of three Brutocao Cabernet Sauvignons.  A vertical tasting is simply the same wine from different vintages.  These three selections were indeed quite similar.  Sourced from Brutocoa’s estate vineyards in Mendocino county, they all were aged 18 months in oak, 50% French and 50% American, and all have an ABV of 14.5% and .69% acidity.

These wines are a deep garnet in the glass.  Surprising for Cabernet Sauvignon, they are semi-transparent rather than opaque.  They start, predictably, with aromas of dark fruit, particularly blackberry, with hints of cedar.  Those dark fruits continue on the palate, but these wines are restrained instead of fruit-forward, perhaps to be expected from a producer with a strong Italian heritage.  They have a medium-long finish that features black-tea tannins.

There were subtle differences, however.  Nothing that you would notice tasting the wines weeks or even days apart, but they were there.  The 2015 had the highest levels of perceived acidity (all three were bottled at .69%) and tannins.  Very unforeseen, because the common wisdom is that as a wine ages in the bottle both acidity and tannins become softer, rounder, and more balanced.  Go figure.  The 2016 was the most integrated of these selections, with well-balanced acidity and tannins, both less demanding of attention than in the 2015.  Finally, the 2017 fell between the other two, with slightly more acidity but softer tannins than the 2016.

You can read more about Brutocao here: https://winervana.com/brutocao-cellars/

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Three Interesting Sakés

L. to R.: Nanbu Bijin Southern Beauty, Tozai Snow Maiden, Dassai 45

Let’s be clear about this right away: Saké, the national alcoholic beverage of Japan, is often called rice wine, but this is a misnomer.  While it is a beverage made by fermentation, the production process more closely resembles that of beer, and it is made from grain (rice, of course), not fruit.  To make saké, the starch of freshly steamed glutinous rice is converted to sugar and then fermented to alcohol.  Once fermented, the liquid is filtered and usually pasteurized.  Sakés can range from dry to sweet, but even the driest retain a hint of sweetness.

Here are three interesting sakés to try.  All should be served chilled, or at room temperature.  Although the cheap sake you may encounter in sushi restaurants will usually be heated, often too much so, such treatment will destroy the subtleties of these selections.

Nanbu Bijin “Southern Beauty” Tokubetsu Junmai

Tokubetsu translates to “special,” indicating that a special element was incorporated into the brewing process at the discretion of the brew master.  In the case of this sake, that element is the use of the local Ginginga rice which took over eight years to develop and perfect, according to the brewery. The water, yeast, and brewing team are also all from Iwate prefectureJunmai is pure rice wine, with no added alcohol.  Until recently, at least 30% of the rice used for junmai sake had to be milled away, but Junmai no longer requires a specified milling rate.

Junmai is historically considered the “way saké was” and means “rice and water only,”  These brews can have their rice milled to many different levels, from 80% with 20% removal to 55% with 45% removal, as long as the milling percentages are on the label.  The result is that some Junmai can drink very rich and full-bodied, and some drink lighter and more elegant.  They can be served chilled, at room temperature, or warmed (but I suggest avoiding warming this one).

Southern Beauty has been milled to 55%, with 45% removal of rice, as high as it gets.  It is Kosher certified, unusual among sakés.  It has a soft, round character, with a flavor reminiscent of mandarin oranges.  ABV is 15.3%.

Tozai “Snow Maiden” Nigori Junmai

Snow Maiden, also known as Hanako, was a koi fish that lived to the age of 226 years in pure mountain water at the base of Japan’s Mt. Ontake.   Nigori, or nigorizake, translates roughly to “cloudy” because of its appearance, and is the oldest style of saké.  The cloudiness is produced when a brewer leaves in some of the rice lees, or sediment. Nigori is not an unfiltered saké however, as the sake is filtered to some degree.  I’m not a big fan of nigori saké because of the rice grit that it always contains.  It is quite delicate here, however, and I found it acceptable.

This expression is relatively dry for a nigori saké, as they always tend toward sweetness.  It has been milled to 70%, and has a soft, floral palate, with flavors of cantaloupe and a suggestion of daikon.  ABV is 14.9%.

Dassai 45 Junmai Daiginjo

Daiginjo is the highest grade of saké.  Junmai Daiginjo has the highest milling rates in saké production, with a minimum of 50% rice polished away and 50% remaining.  But that standard is often surpassed by brewers looking to push the rice milling envelope, resulting in sakés that can be milled down to 35%, down to 23%, and even 7% remaining!  These sakés are always served chilled.

Dassai translates to ‘Otter Festival.’ The name comes from a local Yamaguchi legend that involves a bunch of happy-go-lucky otters showing off their fishing skills and showing us humans how it’s done properly.  Back in 1981, the Toshiko Akiyoshi-Lew Tabackin Big Band released an album called Tanuki’s Night Out, which tells the story, in music, of Tanuki, another hard-partying otter.

Like Southern Beauty, Dassai 45 has been polished to 45% rice remaining, hence the name.   The nose features a banana aroma, with lychee, green apple, and “acidic bubble gum” on the palate.  AVB is 16%.

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Lachini Vineyards

Proprietor Ron Lachini’s family hails from the Tuscan town of Lucca.  At some point, his grandfather immigrated to the United States, settling in the large Italian community of San Francisco’s North Beach.  He started making wine with his father and grandfather in their garages as a child.

He and his wife Marianne both attended U.C. Davis, where they were exposed to the world of viticulture and enology.  Travels to some of the world’s esteemed wine regions and wineries cemented their love and collection of fine wines.  After college, Ron began a career in the financial industry in 1997, which he pursued until 2008.  Nearly simultaneously, in 1998, he and Marianne purchased a 45-acre property in Newberg, Oregon, approximately 30 miles southwest of Portland, with the intention of eventually owning a winery.  After clearing and natural site preparation, in June of 1999 they planted their first five acres of Pinot Noir. In the following seven years, additional blocks were planted that now entail just over 30.5 acres of Pinot Noir plus an additional one and a half acres of Chardonnay.  This land is now the Lachini Estate Vineyard.

In 2001, the dream of a winery was finally realized when Lachini Vineyards began producing limited single-vineyard Pinot Noirs.  They do not believe in recipes, and believe that true artisanal winemaking is based on intuition, sensitivity, and passion. They use ‘old world’ methods in concert with small yields, gentle handling, attentive sorting, native yeasts, and fastidious blending.

Sustainability and Biodynamics

The Lachinis are committed to a caring stewardship of the land, believing that great wine is born in the vineyard.  Their philosophy is “Respect the land and treat it well for generations to come.” Farming is done by hand using sustainable agriculture and organic practices. Sustainable viticulture not only protects and renews soil fertility,  but also minimizes adverse impacts on natural biological cycles. Prior to transitioning to Biodynamic farming practices in 2008, the vineyard was L.I.V.E. certified annually.  Farming activities are aligned with the Stella Natura biodynamic planting calendar.  The grape vines are joined by lavender, olive trees, and native plants for diversity. A local beekeeper, Ryan Bringal, maintains up to ten hives on the property. Lachini shared, “Our emphasis is on the meticulous management of each vine through biodynamic farming, while combining state of the art winemaking and old world technique to handcraft wines of complexity, grace, and profoundness – each one, we believe, a reflection of its soul and unique place.”

The Vineyards

Lachini Estate Vineyard

The south-facing gently-sloped estate vineyard is located in the Chehalem Mountains AVA in Oregon’s northern Willamette Valley.   It is in a transition zone between the forests above to the ravines and open plains of the valley below.  On summer and fall evenings, the Coastal range funnels in its cool marine air, which settles along the valley floor as a dense fog.  The  vineyard is comprised of Willakenzie series soils-ranging from 18 to 48 inches in depth. Shallow, fine-silt loam sits over sedimentary rock. This soil’s lower water capacity forces each vine to compete and develop deep root systems.  The vineyard is treated as a unified entity, emphasizing the interrelationship of soils, plants, and animals as integrated self-nourishing systems.

La Cruz Vineyard

Keller Estates began planting the La Cruz (The Cross) Vineyard in 1989. Lachini began sourcing fruit from La Cruz in 2010 with the goal of  producing a Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir.  The vineyard is located  on a knoll overlooking the Petaluma Gap in northern California. It receives cool morning air from the nearby San Francisco Bay to the south, and from the coastal range bordering Bodega Bay directly to the West.  The soils are multi-layered, mineral-ladened clays with a volcanic subsoil that were once San Pablo Bay sea beds.

The Winemakers

Matthieu Gille: Consulting Winemaker

Gille was born in Burgundy’s Nuits St Georges, where his family has been making wine at their estate since the 16th century.  After completing his degree in Estate Management in Beaune, Gille’s love of Pinot Noir, biodynamic viticulture practices, and regional differences motivated him to explore other wine-making regions.  He arrived at  the International Pinot Noir Celebration in McMinnville, Oregon in 2013, where he fell in love with the area.  He began partnering with Lachini in 2014, and he still supervises the winemaking of his family’s estate as well.

Liz Kelly-Campanale: Winemaker

Santa Barbara native Liz Kelly-Campanale joined Lachini as winemaker in 2019.  She has a winemaking degree from the Northwest Wine Studies Center and a BA from Whitman College, followed by nearly a decade of winemaking experience in the Willamette Valley; her most recent previous position was  assistant winemaker for Edgefield Winery.

Ernesto Mendoza: Vineyard Manager

Mendoza came on board in 2018, and brings a wealth of experience spanning over 18 growing seasons in the Willamette Valley. Prior to Lachini, he was with Advanced Vineyard Systems vineyard management company.  He is committed to biodynamic farming practices, and continues to strive for a deeper understanding of long-term stewardship of farmlands and all facets of farm management.

The Wines

Lachini Family Estate Pinot Noir 2018

This wine was sourced from three blocs of the Lachini’s estate vineyard.  Fermentation  was primarily with native yeasts.  It saw 18 months in French oak, 25% new.   It is dark purple, transparent on the edges but nearly opaque in the center.  The nose offers up blackberry and cherry.  These continue as you taste, plus some racy acidity expressed as cranberry.  There are plenty of big, black-tea tannins, and the round, full mouthfeel lingers for quite a while.  1543 cases were made.  ABV is 14%.

Lachini Vineyards La Cruz Pinot Noir 2019

The fruit this wine traveled all the way from the La Cruz Vineyard in a refrigerated truck.  Lachini’s seventh vintage of this 100% Pinot, it saw 14 months in French oak, 50% of which was new.  It is a medium-transparent purple, with just a hint of cloudiness as it was neither fined nor filtered.  My bottle had a bit of sediment, so I recommend decanting.  There is a full aromatic nose, primarily dark cherries.  These continue on the finely textured palate, aided and abetted by raspberries and red currants.  The nice acidity and soft tannins are in excellent balance.   A mere 96 cases were made.  ABV is 14.2%.

Lachini Vineyards Cuvée Giselle 2018

The fruit for Giselle was drawn from three blocks in Lachini’s estate vineyard. It was aged for fourteen months in roughly 50% new French oak prior to bottling.  It is transparent dark purple in the glass.  This wine features a nose of cherry, raspberry, and vanilla.  It is brooding on the rich palate, with flavors of dark fruit, especially sour cherry and more raspberry. (I know. “Brooding” is the kind of adjective you might expect to see in a pretentious wine review, but it is truly an apt descriptor here.)  The energetic acidity and structured tannins are in very good balance.   Lachini made 147 cases.  ABV is 14.3%.

The Grape Republic Pinot Noir 2017

The Grape Republic is Lachini’s relatively new “value” label, with higher production quantities and lower per-bottle costs.  2017 is the fourth vintage of this wine.   The fruit is sourced from the estate vineyard and other selected vineyards within the Willamette Valley.

A worthy addition to the Lachini lineup, this 100% Pinot Noir is a transparent brick red.  It starts with full aromas of plum and cherry.  The bright palate is reminiscent of cherry cola, with hints of raspberry as well.  Although it is completely still, with no effervescence, it has a tingly acidity backed up by silky tannins.   1247 cases were made.  ABV is 13.9%.

Lachini Vineyards Al di La Chardonnay 2018

Al di La translates as “beyond the beyond.”  It was also sourced from Lachini’s estate vineyard.  It was fermented with natural yeast for 11 months in French oak puncheons, a concrete egg, and just a bit in stainless steel.  (A puncheon is equivalent to three regular barrels.  Egg-shaped fermenters, also known as kvevri” or “qvevri, have been around for thousands of years, but are enjoying a renewed popularity among winemakers.)  Bâtonnage and sur lie aging was employed.

This 100% Chardonnay pours a pale yellow with an hint of pink on the edges.  I have no idea where that would come from in a white grape.  The aroma on the delicate nose is predominantly peach with a bit of honey.  Peaches continue on the palate, backed up by pears, honeydew, and a sneaky grapefruit-like acidity.  136 6-bottle cases were produced.  ABV is 13.8%.

Lachini Vineyards La Bestia Cabernet Sauvignon 2017

La Bestia is Italian for “The Beast.”  A blend of 83% Cabernet Sauvignon and 17% Cabernet Franc, this wine saw 22 months in barrel, 75% new and 25% once-used French and American oak.  It is dark purple, and opens with subtle aromas of mint and cassis, plus plenty of jammy dark fruits.  These continue on the rich mouthfeel, especially figs, black plums, dates, and raspberries.  It is all supported by grippy tannins and good acidity.  296 cases were produced.  ABV is 14.9%


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LaRue Wines

March is Women’s History Month, and an apt time to feature  winemaker Katy Wilson, one of the few but growing number of women in the wine industry.

Wilson founded  LaRue Wines in 2009 when she was just 26, but already had years of experience.

For Wilson, there was never a “Plan B” career path.  She grew up on a walnut orchard in California’s Central Valley and felt an affinity for the land from a young age.  True to the cliché, she learned to drive a tractor before she could drive a car.  Following high school, she pursued her higher education in the Agricultural Business program at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo.  During her first semester there, she was exposed to the possibility of a life in wine, and the die was cast.  After graduating with degrees in Wine and Viticulture and Agricultural Business, her odyssey began.

The first stop was Testarossa Winery in Los Gatos, California, where she scrubbed the facility and discovered the possibilities of Pinot Noir.  Next, a big move to Torbreck Vintners in Australia’s Barossa Valley, where she was given the chance to work with some of the oldest vines in the world.  Then it was back to California, specifically Napa Valley, where she spent a year making Cabernet Sauvignon at the famous Joseph Phelps Vineyards.  The peripatetic Wilson then went half-way around the world once again, to work  at Craggy Range in Hawkes Bay, New  Zealand.

Finally, she landed on the Sonoma Coast at Flowers Vineyards & Winery, famous for their Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  While there, Wilson worked her way up from harvest enologist to assistant winemaker, and realized the Sonoma Coast would be where her wandering would end, but not before a stint at Kamen Estate Wines in 2009 as the associate winemaker, making big, bold Cabernet Sauvignons and Syrahs there for five years.

That same year, 2009, Wilson launched her own winery, LaRue Wines, as well.   It  is named in honor of her great-grandmother, Veona LaRue Newell, who Wilson has described as inspirational and unique; others have used the adjectives bold, independent, and feisty.  Regardless, there was a strong bond between the two.  The winery is very much a boutique operation, focusing on small lots of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, with total production limited to just 500 cases.   Drawing on the cool conditions and remote coastal vineyards of the Sonoma Coast, Wilson strives for wines that are complex and vibrant with elegant acidity, and that drink well when young but also age gracefully.  She is guided by a steadfast, non-interventionist winemaking philosophy that champions the land from which the grapes come.

Still young and with energy to spare, Wilson also works as a consulting winemaker, partnering with Banshee Wines from 2012 to 2018, Claypool Cellars from 2012 to 2020, Anaba Wines since 2014, Reeve Wines, and Smith Story Wine Cellars all, predictably, in the Sonoma region.  “There are so many different types of consultants and reasons why you would hire a consultant, from winemaking knowledge to vineyard connections to marketing,” says Wilson. “Some wineries already have a full-time winemaker but are in need of advice or guidance in a particular area or to address an issue. Others hire a consultant to work as the winery’s sole winemaker.”

Wilson operates in both capacities. “My path to where I am today has been almost like a ‘choose your own adventure book!’ ” exclaims Wilson.  “As I worked my way up in the winemaking world, I learned very quickly that in addition to maintaining a ‘never-stop-learning’ work ethic, relationships are everything in this surprisingly small industry.”

Wilson has her signature style for LaRue (which she calls “very hands-off”), but she tailors her approach to fit the  the vision of the other winery owners she works with through lots of conversation, side-by-side work, and tasting. “As a consultant, I look at what I do as a collaboration. The wines that I make for my own winery, LaRue, are different than any wines that I am making for my clients,” says Wilson.

She was touted as a “Winemaker to Watch” by the San Francisco Chronicle in 2013.

The Vineyards from which these wines were drawn

“For more than a decade, I have been devoted to showcasing small lot Pinot Noir and Chardonnay exclusively from a particular sliver of the Sonoma Coast that lies 7 to 10 miles from the Pacific Ocean and is heavily influenced by the coastal marine weather.  Each site has a special fingerprint that I try to capture and express,” shared Wilson.

Charles Heintz Vineyard

Since 1912, the Heintz family has owned and operated this site just east of the town of Occidental. It is a highly sought-after vineyard for premium wine producers for its quintessential expression of Sonoma Coast Chardonnay.  Wilson has been producing a Chardonnay from this property since 2014.  Her 2018 product is reviewed below.

Thorn Ridge Vineyard

Ted Klopp and his daughter, Lauren Klopp-Williams, farm Thorn Ridge Vineyard. Wilson started working with this vineyard in 2014.  The east-facing orientation of Thorn Ridge enjoys ample morning sun, resulting in fruit that is more rustic and has a darker character than that of the other Pinot Noir vineyards LaRue sources from.  It is planted on Goldridge sandy loam soils. Thorn Ridge is located just west of the town of Sebastopol, which features a heavy marine influence.

Rice-Spivak Vineyard

Planted in 1999 and owned by Russell Rice and Helene Spivak, Wilson has been working with this vineyard since LaRue was founded. Wilson first met Russell and Helene in 2007 during her time as the assistant winemaker at Flowers Winery.   This six-acre, cool, north-facing site lies south of the town of Sebastopol.  Its Goldridge sandy loam soils are, unusually for this area, mixed with volcanic ash.

Emmaline Ann Vineyard

Emmaline Ann is a three-acre vineyard planted in 2001 by owners Wayne and Nancy Hunnicutt, and is named after Nancy’s grandmother. Like the Spivaks, Wilson first met the Hunnicutts in 2007 during her time at Flowers Winery.  All of LaRue’s tastings are staged here, as well as the annual LaRue Wines Summer BBQ.  This small  vineyard faces southwest toward the Pacific Ocean and is frequently enveloped in fog.

LaRue Wines Charles Heintz Vineyard Chardonnay 2018

The fruit for this Chard was sourced entirely from the Charles Heintz Vineyard and then aged for 17 months in once-used French oak.  It pours a clear bright yellow, and the nose offers up aromas of mango and grapefruit,  with a touch of lemon meringue. The palate features a full, smooth mouthfeel and flavors of lemon and creme brûlée, all supported with mouthwatering acidity and a hint of vanilla. Production was 75 cases.  ABV is  13.1%.

LaRue Wines Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2018

Wilson drew on three vineyards for this selection:  46% from the Thorn Ridge Vineyard, 38% from the Rice-Spivak Vineyard, and 16% from the Emmaline Ann Vineyard.  The wine saw 20 months in French oak barrels, 20% of which were new.  It is a quite pale cherry red, but looks can be deceiving.  It starts with aromas of dark stone fruit, particularly plum, followed by predominantly strawberry on the palate, with some cranberry.  Hints of violets and vanilla lead to a medium finish. It all wraps up with zippy acidity and delicate tannins.  Wilson made 125 cases.  ABV is 13.3%.


Photography by Courtney Dawn Photography

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