La Crema Winery
Sonoma County region
Further perfecting the old-world winemaking techniques and continuing to offer world-class wines
The original owners of La Crema Winery had the right idea, it’s just that their timing was a bit off. In 1979, Rod Bergland coaxed a small group of investors into starting La Crema Vinera Winery. All nine partners were avid wine enthusiasts but none had practical wine industry experience. But the business plan looked good, and the wine industry appeared solid, so they were eager to give it a go.
Their niche was to use old-world techniques in the winemaking process that at the time was unique among California wineries. Traditional Burgundian practices such as fermentation initiated by native yeasts; utilizing open-top fermenters; extended maceration; pre-fermentation cold soak; barrel fermentation; lees contact; full malolactic fermentation; and lower levels of SO2—all were radical departures from modern day California winemaking. Another departure from the norm was their plan to make vineyard designated wine, wine made entirely with grapes from a specific vineyard and labeling it as such. All of these practices are typical today but back then were considered off-beat.
From a modest start of 1,000 cases in 1979, the partners catapulted production to 20,000 cases by 1984. The wines had caught on in the marketplace but expansion came too quickly. Just as their production was at an all time high, product sales were weakened by a wave of consolidations among the nation’s wine distributors. The combination of these events proved fatal to La Crema Vinera and the group was forced to sell in 1985.
Jason Korman, head of the International Wine Exchange, acquired the winery that same year. Korman shortened the name of the winery to La Crema, and also made changes to the wines themselves. He abandoned the vineyard-designated concept and began a program of blending grapes from various coastal regions throughout California. The old-world techniques were gradually phased out. He also moved the winery location from Petaluma to Sebastopol and quickly increased production to the 60,000 case level. Korman’s efforts however proved ill fated too. Trying to sustain the winery’s production output, he got caught in a classic industry-wide glut. During the late 1980s and early 1990s there was simply too much wine on the market and not enough demand. His deep pockets had run out by 1993 and the banks seized control of the winery.
Enter Jess Jackson of Kendall-Jackson fame. Jess Jackson was (and still is) a believer in the original vision Rod Bergland had in starting La Cream Vinera Winery. He purchased the winery and set out to breathe new life into the La Crema brand. Jackson moved the winery to Forestville where he built facilities specifically tailored to produce the Burgundian varietals on which the original La Crema built its reputation. He focused his winemaker on producing higher quality wines using the old-world techniques once again. The change in strategy paid quick dividends as the La Crema 1994 Pinot Noir took top honors at the California State Fair and won numerous awards at other wine competitions.
Today, production of the La Crema wines is guided by winemaker Jeff Stewart, who joined the winery in 1999. His primary focus has been to continue the La Crema tradition of crafting high quality Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The Chardonnay and Pinot Noir each have three different Appellation Series versions, plus a higher production and more widely distributed Sonoma Coast bottling. The winery also produces three specialty wines in smaller quantities—a Viognier, Syrah and Zinfandel. The San Francisco International Wine Competition recently honored Jeff as Winemaker of the Year.
Under Jess Jackson’s reign, the La Crema brand has flourished. The winery is now utilizing a brand new $12 million facility in the heart of the Russian River Valley. The facility’s new state-of-the-art winemaking equipment has allowed La Crema to further perfect the old-world winemaking techniques and to continue the winery’s offerings of world-class wines.
Dear Platinum Wine Club Members:
It is my pleasure to share with you the La Crema 1997 Sonoma County Reserve Zinfandel. Zinfandel is a variety that is very exciting to all of us here at La Crema as it is a wine with great fruit intensity, complexity and an affinity for food.
The fruit in our 1997 Reserve Zinfandel came from old vines planted in the Russian River Valley (66%) and Sonoma County (34%). Russian River Zinfandel is very unique as it produces wines with intense raspberry, blackberry and white pepper aromas, with flavors of black cherry, blackberry and spice. The cool climate of the Russian River gives the wine bright acidity and balance.
At La Crema we hand harvest all our fruit early in the morning, and deliver the fruit to the winery while it is still cold. We ferment all of our Zinfandel in small open top tanks which are punched down 4 times per day, extracting all the fruit intensity and soft, rich tannins, while avoiding the harsh green tannins found in the seeds. After fermentation the wines are aged for 10 months in French Oak barrels, at which time the wines are bottled without fining. Our techniques closely mirror the techniques we use on our Pinot Noir, giving our Zinfandel its silkiness and balance, while still maintaining incredible fruit concentration and intensity.
I hope you enjoy drinking this wine as much as we enjoyed making it.