The San Francisco Chronicle has named Ted Lemon of Littorai Winemaker of the Year for 2010. Before I go further, let me give full disclosure: Ted is a friend of mine. However, I’ve said on numerous occasions that he’s turning out the best Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in California, and I have many friends for whom I can’t make that claim.
At this point, you’re thinking that you’ve never heard of Littorai. The production is tiny, perhaps 4,000 cases in a good vintage. Ted primarily makes small amounts of vineyard designated wines from high-altitude sites in the Sonoma Coast and Alexander Valley. He’s a graduate of the winemaking school at the Université de Bourgogne, and apprenticed with Roumier and Dujac. In 1982, after Guy Roulot passed away unexpectedly, Ted became a vineyard manager at the tender age of 24. To my knowledge, he’s the only American ever to have served in this capacity.
When he returned to the U.S. he worked at Napa’s Chateau Woltner, which was then the leading Chardonnay producer in California. Before he founded Littorai, he and his wife Heidi spent a year driving up and down the coast, looking for the perfect vineyard sites for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. He ended up in Russian River (Mays Canyon), Sonoma Coast (Charles Heintz, Theriot, Summa and Platt) and Anderson Valley (Cerise, Hirsch, Savoy and One Acre).
The Littorai wines display great acidity and concentration of fruit. They are pure and somewhat on the lean side for California, but don’t think that they are pretend Burgundies. After the painstaking process of selecting these vineyard sites, Ted has the wisdom to allow them to speak for themselves. Perhaps the only real similarity to Burgundy is the ability of the Littorai wines to age gracefully. I’ve had ten year-old Chardonnays and twelve year-old Pinot Noirs that were pristine and beautifully developed, and it’s hard to find many other wines from California in that kind of shape.
Littorai has very little retail representation. Ted releases a declassified Chardonnay (Sonoma Coast) and Pinot Noir (Les Larmes) that sell in the $50 range; the vineyard designated would cost around $75, if you can find them. If not, go to http://littorai.com and investigate the possibility of having them shipped to you directly.