Sonoma Coast is one of the most controversial official American Viticultural Areas (AVA) in the wine world. It was originally meant to represent the high elevation, windy, foggy vineyard areas of Sonoma County. However, by the time various vineyard business interests had their say into the federal application, it turned out to be so broad as to have no real meaning as far as defining a wine terroir.
If we want to rewind to when the original hearty souls imagined the true Sonoma Coast region, we need to take circuitous mountainous drives to remote areas where we find tiny vineyards that struggle to ripen their also tiny yields of wine grapes. Some years are so lean that vintners, such as Katy Wilson of LaRue Wines, get no grapes from certain vineyards. But when the forces line up for a vintage, what amazing grapes they do yield. That is what makes dedicated — some would say crazy — winemakers take the financial risks of iffy vintages and miniscule yields for a shot at their holy grail.
Wilson’s Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays feature vivid, barely ripe fruit, beams of acid and saline and genuine earthiness. This unique style is also a financial risk because it can be polarizing. However, these are also just the characteristics that certain Pinot-philes seek. The fruit is much more on the side of fresh cranberries than ripe cherries, the mineral is firmly in the briny category and the earthiness is of the mushroom forest-floor variety: like an old-school Oregon Pinot for those who remember that. Even Burgundies rarely display this level of soulfulness anymore.
When I visited Wilson at her home vineyard, Emmaline Ann Vineyards near the town of Freestone, we tasted through a decade of Pinots Noirs and Chardonnays from a variety of vineyards and I can report two things with certainty. No. 1: These wines not only age gracefully, but demand cellaring. Like many of life’s classics, you only get a shadow of their beauty when they are young. No. 2: Wilson is committed to a vison of viticulture and winemaking that when combined with the farmer relationships that make available these vineyards and grapes, make for an authentic expression of wines from their exact microclimate.
When I write about wines that are only available from the winery, I take extra care in vetting them for readers by tasting at least twice and over as many vineyard and vintages as possible. Having done that, I guarantee that if an earthy and crisp style of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir is your jam, you would be hard pressed to do better than LaRue’s offerings. | laruewines.com