La Follette Wines
Sonoma County region
A boutique winery intensely focused crafting terroir-driven Pinot Noir and Chardonnay
It all began almost a decade ago as an attempt to create an ongoing dialogue between a number of select vineyards to showcase two of California’s premier grape varietals, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
California’s North Coast growing region was chosen as the major grape source for La Follette Wines’ initial releases due to its incredible assortment of growing areas and the diversity of climate and soils it offers to the band of farmers that have made the North Coast one of California’s premier growing areas.
La Follette Wines is owned by Pete and Terri Kight who also own well-respected Quiver Vineyards in Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley, as well as the highly acclaimed Torbreck Vintners in Australia’s Barossa Valley. Kight is the CEO of electronic bill pay pioneer CheckFree and an avid devotee of fine wines.
La Follette Wines is named for the founding winemaker of the entity, Greg La Follette (see Spotlight Section) and began operations in 2008. A total of 5,000 cases were initially released and the number has steadily increased to the present level of around 10,000 cases.
“We have a business plan that calls for us to reach another 5,000 or so cases around 2020,” informed Greg Ralston, La Follette Wines’ general manager. “It all depends on the will of the consumer market, but the signs are quite encouraging.”
Since its inception, the predominantly Sonoma-sourced company has been an excellent negotiant model for the Northern California wine industry. With no estate vineyards, La Follette Wines has prospered on long-term contracts with growers from a number of highly-rated vineyards. Included are the likes of renowned Sangiacomo Vineyards (both their Robert’s Road Vineyard and Green Acres Vineyard) as well as Charles Heinz Vineyard, Hawk’s Roost Vineyard, Van Der Kamp Vineyard and several others. The grape-growing group represents an outstanding selection of fruit from specific terroirs that reflect the flavors and intensities of each specific site.
“We are quite selective about the fruit we buy,” added Greg Ralston. “We are looking for certain features from the fruit that will complement our style of winemaking. In order to produce outstanding wines, much care must be given to the selection of fruit.”
A number of appellations are involved in La Follette Wines’ releases, so the all-encompassing North Coast Appellation is the designation of choice for the winery. The huge successes of late for the North Coast AVA have been a boon to La Follette Wines and numerous wineries that employ similar blending practices in the area. Since the North Coast AVA is the coldest in Northern California, Burgundian varietals such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay have thrived in its elevated vineyards and cold weather temperatures.
La Follette Wines is a wonderful story of insight and planning that provides great value for its wines that are products of high-caliber (and costly) vineyards. Such wineries are necessary to balance the profusion of expensive products that emanate from the same vineyards under different labels.
Our hat’s off to La Follette Wines and its excellent collection of award-winning wines.
Map of the area
Simone Sequeira - Winemaker
The winemaking team at La Follette Wines is among the best in the country with substantial experience and expertise. Founding winemaker Greg La Follette was principle winemaker until leaving the entity in 2016. His associate winemaker, Simone Sequeira, has been with the winery since its inception and maintains the attention to detail that is necessary to produce exceptional wines. Sequeira’s work experience includes a stint at Taft Street Winery in Sebastopol and foreign stints at the prestigious Clos de Vougeot in Burgundy and also with a top winery in Argentina early in her career.
Sequeira believes her greatest asset is her nose in making wines. “I feel like I’m receiving nonverbal messages and clues all day long from ambient aromas inside and outside the winery,” she revealed.
Nowadays, Winemaker Ehren Jordan serves as consultant at La Follette Wines. Jordan is a former winemaker-of-the-year (2008) and has been associated with such luminaries as Turley Wine Cellars, Failla Wines and Neyers Vineyards. Enough said.
Greg La Follette
Founding Winemaker Greg La Follette is something of a legend in winemaking circles around Sonoma County, with good reason.
La Follette’s career began as a musician. At 17, he became the bagpiper for the Queen Mary berthed in Long Beach, California. “I wanted to be a winemaker since my teens,” admitted La Follette. “But who in Los Angeles becomes a winemaker?” La Follette eventually transferred to UC Davis to pursue his dream of becoming a winemaker and was able to complete his post grad work on how Burgundian winemaking techniques affect mouthfeel. That experience fostered an attachment for both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay that affected La Follette’s entire winemaking career. “A bottle of the 1961 Domaine de la Romanee-Conti Le Montrachet (considered by many to be the finest white Burgundy in the world) put the icing on the cake for me as far as Burgundies were concerned,” he added.
For the past fifty years, Greg La Follette has plied his trade as a world class winemaker. As winemaker or consulting winemaker, he has been responsible for wine entities such as Flowers Vineyards and Winery, Alquimista Cellars, Steelhead Vineyards and Tandem Wines to name a few. He is Sonoma’s most revered winemaker and was honored as Winemaker of the Year in 2010. He has also been tagged “Prince of Pinot” by the website of the same name.
La Follette points out that, “Perhaps the biggest lesson is that a wine is a sum of its parts and the biggest part is the land itself and that we as spokespersons for the land must revere the rocks, sun, wind and rain - everything that ultimately affects the growing of the grapes.”
He also alludes to his mentor, wine icon and winemaking teaching legend Andre Tchelistcheff, who often extolled him to “Live the wine.”
Greg La Follette is a proponent of balanced wines and chides the adage that low yields make higher-quality wines. “A broad generalization” he said, referring to the low yield maxim. “It is more likely that high-end wines from vines that are cropped too low are actually worse than if the vine has a balanced crop. This leads to runaway alcohols. If the vine isn’t balanced, it will pay no attention to ripening its grape tannins. Then you must pick the grapes at higher sugar percentages to produce flavor-ripeness and that leads to higher alcohols, lower acidity and jammy flavors. Balanced vines mean balanced wines, it’s as simple as all that.”
Awards and accolades have come by the bushel to Greg La Follette and his portfolio of finely textured wines. Throughout the years, his wines have earned a reputation both for their quality as well as their price/value relationship.
He continues to preach the gospel about terroir and its effect on the wines that are produced from specific areas. “Each site, each vineyard has uniqueness, a specialness that can be listened to and partnered to,” he stated. “If I do anything well, it is listening to my vineyards and inviting the land to share its voice in every glass of wine.”
Luminaries such as Greg La Follette are increasingly difficult to find in the California wine industry as it continues to grow and prosper. When profitability and status become bywords in the wine arena, many growers and vintners succumb to the pressures of the industry. Not so with Greg La Follette, a humble and resolute man who remains true to his origins and his passions.
It is our pleasure to spotlight Greg La Follette for our Gold Wine Club members.
North Coast AVA
Northern California’s North Coast AVA (American Viticultural Area) encompasses growing areas in six California counties and covers more than 3,000,000 acres along the coast of the Golden State.
Mainstay designations such as Napa Valley, Sonoma County and Mendocino County are the headliners and the North Coast Appellation is home to the most wineries in California.
With the rise in popularity of the amazing Pinot Noir grape, added attention has been given to the North Coast AVA and its sometimes fierce weather conditions. While officially classified as Mediterranean/maritime in climate, the area’s altitude variances and wind conditions have made it one of the most desirous places for growing the hard to handle Pinot Noir and to a lesser degree the Chardonnay.
The long, rough-edged rectangle that is the North Coast AVA measures a little over 120 miles from South to North and about half that from west to east. Summer temperatures in the North Coast AVA are significantly lower (while winters are noticeably milder) than the inland growing areas and provide a higher quality of fruit. While many of the sub-regions (Napa Valley, Sonoma County etc.) are delineated by national, state or county borders, the North Coast AVA is defined by topography, hydrography and other geographical factors.
Many winemaking gems originate within this AVA and consumers should take note of each wine’s origins when making their selection. Such prudent shopping will seldom be disappointing.