Some of the world’s greatest wines are blends. If nothing else, some of the greatest wine values are. Kevin and I have always sought the mid-range village wines from Burgundy, Piedmont, and the Mosel—he as a sommelier and I as a wine drinker. These ‘working man’ bottlings from Europe, like the four from LIOCO below, capture a grander sense of place by blending vineyards from within one appellation. Does a blended Chardonnay from the Russian River Valley have a point of view? One look at the photo above should answer that question. The reality is while a pedigreed, single-vineyard wine may haunt you for its utter distinction, blended wines are often more consistent and more consistently fun to drink.
LIOCO’s appellation wines, explained…
Estero, Russian River Valley Chardonnay
We named this wine Estero, the Spanish word for estuary, in homage to the river-born waterways that inform the local vineyards. It is a blend of three prized vineyards—all of them dry-farmed and featuring Old Wente clone. The anchor vineyard source was planted by the Cameron family in 1968 making it one of the oldest Chardonnay plantings in the RRV. The addition of this high caliber vineyard (which several more commercially-minded wineries passed on?!) takes Estero to another level. Picked late, but at low brix (21-22 degrees) and fermented in entirely neutral oak, the profile is reminiscent of a 1970’s California Chardonnay—crisp, pure, and mineral. And it clocks in at a modest 12.6% alc.
La Selva, Anderson Valley Pinot Noir *inaugural release*
The AV is one of the last good, great places in California. In early times it was home to apple orchards, later sparkling wine, and today still Pinot Noir. There are two decidedly different climats here—the cool, forested western side (aka ‘the deep-end’) near Philo, and the warmer eastern side near Boonville. We produce wines from both places and love the high tones of the deep-end sites just as we do the sinewy grip of the vineyards around Boonville. Viva la difference! Our inaugural vintage of La Selva, Spanish for the forest, is a blend of both aspects. The Conzelman Vineyard sits on a slope of decomposed sandstone and fractured rock. We blend it with a few barrels of prized Cerise Vineyard Pinot, which gives the wine a solid foundation of dark, brooding fruit. The end result: a dense, but still lively AV Pinot Noir.
Laguna, Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
Just south of Jenner there’s a neat little surf spot/shark pit we check at the mouth of the Russian River. Post-rinse, we stop for strong black coffee at Cafe Aquadica, and then make our way back into the towering redwoods along the Russian River. We call this a “work commute”, and we consider ourselves very lucky to make it. Our Laguna Pinot Noir was named for the myriad lagoons found along this enchanting stretch of coast. It is a blend of three premier Sonoma Coast sites including the Hirsch Vineyard where we produce a vineyard-designate wine. It has that snappy, sweet & sour red fruitedness found in Pinot Noir from this region and nowhere else. In the drought years like 2013 and 2014, the wine seems to communicate a coniferous note too—like ground up pine cones and redwood bark.
Sativa, Mendocino Carignan
They don’t make guys like Jim McCutchen anymore. At the ripe age of 83 he still farms-by-hand his improbable Carignan vineyard on the high ridges above Cloverdale. The rocky soil, steep slopes, and extreme temperatures would challenge even a well-equipped vineyard crew and yet this grower from another era goes at it alone. The ensuing wine, which we call Sativa, after our favorite strain of Cannabis, is from the very oldest vines and ripest clusters. We employ a prohibition-era fermentation method (100% whole clusters beneath a submerged cap) resulting in a unique expression of this underrated grape. At first taste it is dense and powerful, but still lively and drinkable. Black fruits intermingle with dried wild herbs and chai tea spice. It reminds us of one of those expensive Kermit wines from the Languedoc.