Greg La Follette is back on California Wine Country today, with Steve Jaxon. Dan Berger is still away but will be back. It’s the first proper show in several months, after many weeks off due to Coronavirus precautions.
Greg La Follette runs Alquimista Cellars today and he has been in the wine industry since 1984. Before that he was an early researcher on the Aids virus. He wanted to make wine so he moved from LA to Davis and studied there. His thesis was on how Burgundy winemaking techniques affect mouth feel. “And the rest is history.” In 1984 he worked at Simi Winery as a Guest Scientist. Then he worked with André Tchelistcheff at BV and many others, including working for Kendall-Jackson when they called him to bring La Crema back out of bankruptcy. He had a winery under his own name La Follette and then sold it. The new owners wanted to pronounce it “la-foll-ETTE” differently than the way he pronounces his own name, “la-FOLL-ette”. Greg mentions that the famous Bob La Follette of Wisconsin politics (a century ago) is an ancestor of his.
Alquimista Cellars is his new label but he is using most of the same growers he has worked with before at various stops in his career, including some he has worked with for over 30 years. Greg says the name Alquimista was foisted on him. André was called the alchemist and some people called him that too. It also has the advantage of not resembling in any way the names of his clients. During the Coronavirus madness Greg spent a lot of time in the vineyards tending the vines and taking care of some clients, including one in upstate New York in the Finger Lakes district.
They taste a 2018 Alquimista Cellars Lorenzo Vineyard Chardonnay. Their wines are mainly available through their website and wine club subscribers. They are also in a few choice local restaurants, such as Single Thread, Farmhouse Inn and Terrapin Creek. Greg started working with the Lorenzo vineyard in 1993. It is one of the oldest Chardonnay vineyards in the Russian River Valley.
Each bottle of Alquimista Cellars wine has unique art work, which has been commissioned from different Sonoma County artists. Greg La Follette says that he feels it is important for him to give back and supporting local artists is one way to do that. They also support the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation and others.
They mostly make Chardonnay and Pinot Noir but they also make a Pinot Meunier and has brought a 2018 of that. It is a very rare wine, normally a sparkling wine grape, lively and spritely. He also brought the Confluence, a wine made from 3 vineyards.
The Pinot Meunier is a table wine, there are no bubbles in this wine. Usually it is used in sparkling wines and was until recently the most planted varietal in the Champagne region of France. Greg describes how his Pinot Meunier is made, by whole cluster fermentation, so each berry is a separate fermentation, and to accomplish this, they actually stomp the grapes with their feet. His kids grew up working in the winery and this was the most coveted job.
“It’s a fruit riot in the mouth.” – Greg La Follette, describing the Pinot Meunier.
He does it differently than anyone else. First they load up the fermenter into the pickup truck and they drive to the vineyard. They clip the cluster and gently deposit them into the fermenter. It’s a very special pick.
Before the end, they taste the Confluence Pinot Noir, a blend from three different vineyards. One is the Lorenzo vineyard, Hawk’s Roost Vineyard and the third the Mes Filles vineyard. All the vineyards that Alquimista Cellars works with are listed on their website at this page. The Confluence is Pinot Noir with some Chardonnay blended in. This is something Greg has done before, some of his most famous and successful wines were reds with Chardonnay blended in. Some winemakers objected but they were overruled because these wines kept winning first place in the blind tastings.