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de Lorimier Winery - Alexander Valley


de Lorimier Builds Strong Case for Meritage Wines

Meritage wines represent the best of American made wines blended together in the classic style and tradition of the great Bordeaux wines. de Lorimier Winery, as you will discover with this month's selections, is a standout producer of Meritage wines. Their wines embody the emerging belief that expert blending, enhanced by continuing refinement in all phases of the winemaking process, can produce vintages that are more complex than varietals, and unexcelled in flavor and quality.

The term "Meritage" is a blend itself--of the words "Merit" and "Heritage." In 1988, a group of 20 vintners created The Meritage Association, dedicated to the goal of first legitimizing, then popularizing the term, Meritage. It is ironic to have to legitimize a wine making technique which has been the standard tradition of many great French wine producers for centuries. But in California, through the 1970's and early 1980's, premium wines tended to be just single variety wines. For example, a Cabernet Sauvignon was largely assumed to be 100% of that variety. Early winemakers felt it was an opportunity to distinguish California wines from French wines, and make it easier for the consumer to make a buying decision. As winemakers grew to better understand the world's great wines-particularly Bordeaux wines, they realized the importance of blending techniques. Gradually, the Cabernet Sauvignons began to appear with a blend of Merlot--to "soften" the wine, as they said. Whether the Merlot "softened" the wine or not, it was added to make a more complex, flavorful and interesting wine. Today, of course, literally hundreds of wineries are blending their wines, the results of which, have been fabulous.

The Meritage Association specifies that a Meritage wine must represent the winery's best efforts of winemaking, and contain only specific Bourdeaux varietals. The allowable red varietals include: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Gros Verdot, and Carminere. The White Meritage wines may include only a combination of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillion, or Muscadelle. Every Meritage varietal except Gros Verdot, Carminere, and Muscadelle is being grown by this month's featured de Lorimier Winery.

Alfred de Lorimier bought his vineyard land in 1971. Originally, he was just looking to find a getaway spot for he and his family to escape the busy city life of San Francisco. The Sonoma location on which he settled, was just a short drive away, and in the heart of the beautiful Alexander Valley. At that time, the property was an old prune orchard, owned by Beringer Vineyards. de Lorimier tried his hand at prune farming for one harvest before converting the entire parcel into vineyards. Lucky for wine lovers he did!

For thirteen years Al de Lorimier sold his entire grape production to other wineries. He observed how these wineries were winning medal after medal using his grapes! What bothered him though was the one-varietal style in which most of these wines were being made. "I was tired of the monochromatic wines being made back then," he says. "The Chardonnays were too oakey, and the Sauvignon Blancs were too grassy. I prefer a fruitier more complex style." he adds, "So I decided to build my own winery to make wines the way I like to drink them!"

By 1987 he was off and running with his own offering of uniquely blended wines, fashioned in the time-honored Bourdeaux technique--and more importantly, the way he preferred to drink wine. Al de Lorimier's wife, Sandy, created a "Patterns" concept in naming the wines. The wine names, Spectrum, a white Meritage, Mosaic, a red Meritage, and Prism, a blend of three Chardonnays, were created. The names suggest the essence of each particular wine, and the artistry, and richness in each blend. All three wines are complex, yet distinctive combinations of grape varietals which produce an array of generous flavors. A fourth offering called, Lace, is a late-harvest Sauvignon Blanc wine, available only in special years when the weather cooperates.

Al de Lorimier keeps an eye on the winery operation, and is also a prominent pediatric surgeon in San Francisco (see Spotlight profile in this publication). Al's wife, Sandy; winemaker Don Frazer (see related article); sales & marketing manager, John Woodward; and vineyard manger, Alex Vyborny; are the lifeblood of the operation. Total production is nearing 7,000 cases annually, with a near future goal of 10,000. Only the best grapes are used to make their proprietary wines, which account for roughly 1/3 of the total grape production. The other two-thirds continue to be sold to other wineries.

de Lorimier is proud of all his wines, but when pressed to reveal his favorite, he points to the 1990 Spectrum. "I believe it is the most versatile wine we have made," he says. "It is a wonderful blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillion, that goes well with a wide variety of food--even meats. And the 1988 Mosaic is a great wine too. It has a broad array of flavor with a good Cabernet foundation," he added. By no coincidence, both wines were sought after by GMWC, and are this month's featured selections.

The de Lorimier Winery has helped open the door for a new range of serious California wines. His carefully crafted blends have been on the cutting edge of innovation. It's simply a matter of time before the "big-boys" of the wine world--producers and critics alike, begin to popularize this approach to winemaking. Until then we know of at least one great winery that will show us the way!



Donald H. Frazer - winemaker

Donald H. Frazer joined de Lorimier Winery in the spring of 1989, and with him has brought an extensive background in viticulture and winemaking.

Raised on a family farm just north of Sacramento, Don worked summers and after school at all phases of an agricultural operation. He attended the University of California at Davis, where he obtained a B.S. specializing in Plant Science. Don joined Charles Krug winery in 1978 where he was elevated to the position of winemaker/production manager in January of 1980. In 1982 Don accepted a position as winemaker at Belvedere Winery where he was promoted to Vice President--Winemaker in 1985.

Don's winemaking philosophy is based om the fact that wine is a fruit product and therefore should reflect the varietal character of the grapes as well as the region and vineyard in which they are grown. This unique combination should be the central focus of a wine. From the time a vineyard is selected to the time a wine is released, all decisions must be made withe ultimate goal of enhancing and preserving that unique character and presenting a wine that is complex, balanced and delicious to drink.

Dr. Alfred de Lorimier - a look on the personal side

Dr. Alfred de Lorimier figured there had to be a better way. During medical school at the University of California in San Francisco, he saw a big void of expertise in the surgeries performed on children and infants. "It was an area that needed a lot of attention," he remembers. de Lorimier spent five years learning general surgery at U.C.S.F., followed by two years of pediatric surgery at Ohio State perfecting his craft. Dr. de Lorimier has honed his skills to become one of the nations' most prominent physicians in the Pediatric Surgery field. In fact, last year, he served as the President of the American Pediatric Surgical Association.

Al was born in Washington D.C., the son of an Army Radiologist. As an "Army Brat" he spent his childhood living on Army bases in Washington, Panama Canal, and Memphis, before the family finally settled down in Berkeley, California. There he has remained ever since.

Al de Lorimier's interest in wines developed during his medical school years, but owning a vineyard was the furthest thing from his mind. "In the late 1960's we began looking for a future escape valve out of San Francisco-a place in the country where we could go to relax someday and maybe try to grow something," Al recalls. "On a map we drew a two-hour drive radius around San Francisco and began exploring the possibilities," he said. The de Lorimier family fell in love with the beauty of the Alexander Valley. So in 1972, they bought two parcels of land, about seven miles apart, totalling about 65 acres.

Even at this point Al de Lorimier had not yet decided to plant vineyards. The two properties had existing prune and pear orchards which had been largely neglected by previous owner, Beringer vineyards. "Beringer had been holding on to the land with the idea of converting it to vineyards, but they decided to scale back and sell it instead," he reported. "We thought it would be fun to resurrect the orchards." he chuckled. But the de Lorimiers quickly learned that prunes and pears were not exactly big cash crops, and it would cost them more to harvest than they would get for the crop.

In 1972, one year after buying the orchard properties, they converted it entirely to vineyards. And through the years with the help of vineyard neighbors, winery experts, former winemaker Dennis Hill, and current winemaker Don Frazer, the de Lorimier's have carved out a successful grape growing and winery operation that competes with the best California has to offer. We hope you enjoy learning about, and tasting two of deLorimier's finest wines.

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