Jen Walsh and Ben Fine from La Crema join Steve Jaxon and Dan Berger today on California Wine Country. The Jackson family now owns the property. Dan says that La Crema’s brand has taken off in the last five or six years. The wine is great and the prices are fair and their production of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir is very consistent.
Ben Fine tells about how Pinot Noir went from an afterthought to a mainstay. They love the concept of coastal fruit, sustainably farmed. Jen says that they have a lot of estate fruit.
They taste some Russian River Bubbles, their sparkling wine. It’s a non-vintage. The fruit comes from Saralee’s vineyard (planted by Rich and Saralee Kunde). She describes it as a traditional method, low dosage, high-acid, “kind of zippy” sparkling wine.
Jen Walsh got into the wine business working in her uncle’s restaurant. She knew that she was interested in wine so she came to California and attended UC Davis.
Ben says that when you have a special occasion to celebrate, you can trust La Crema to deliver an excellent wine. Dan says this sparkling wine is an “absolute killer” example of how to blend, as it is 70% Chardonnay, and the Pinot is only 30% of the blend, yet it is the dominant flavor. With age, the Chardonnay flavors will emerge. It is only available at their tasting room. (Steve Jaxon is a great Chardonnay fan and La Crema is the label that he usually asks for.) In this sparkling wine, Dan Berger notes a citrus flavor combined with a creamy flavor “like a delicate French reduction sauce.” Jen says that they try to be restrained with their oak texture so it doesn’t dominate. Ben says the oak is like the frame of a picture.
Next they taste the Kelli Anne Chardonnay. These single vineyard wines are available in the tasting room and in local restaurants.
Jen describes the Kelli Ann vineyard as an old, low-yielding vineyard, planted on an old rootstock. It is close to the Russian River so it has a high water table, which allows it to be dry farmed. The vines are about 30 years old. Pete Foppiano remembers when the prices for Chardonnay started to spike, after the Judgement of Paris. Several of those vineyards have been replanted since the, but not the Saralee vineyard! Before that, Sonoma County used to be best known for its prunes.
They taste the 2016 La Crema Pinot Noir which Dan Berger says is among the best Pinot Noir being produced in California. It sells at retail for about $60, and it is as good as others that sell for $75, says Dan. The acidity is what will make all the flavors knit together, starting after about three years. Dan could lay it down for as much as 12 years, but no longer, for Pinot Noir. Dan thinks this one is capable of going for 18-20 years, though. Decanting, for an hour or two, will help, as always. Many Pinot Noirs should not even be opened before 5 years, for them to express themselves to all of their potential. If you do decant it, don’t drink it after only 20 minutes; give it time.
Ben Fine’s title is Wine Educator, for the winery. He gets to spend time with Jen and the other staff, watching all aspects of their production from up close. They have a tasting room at La Crema Estate at Saralee’s Vineyard. They also have picnics and vineyard tours there. They also have a tasting room in Healdsburg, on the square. Dan reminds everyone that Rich Kunde understood clones of Pinot Noir like nobody else, along with André Tchelistcheff.
The Shell Ridge vineyard is near the coast, a few miles from Healdsburg but it takes an hour and a half to get there, on the windy roads. Jen says that the wine has a savory, wild quality to it, and violets and blackberries.
They also make a small amount of Riesling, which is a variety that Dan really appreciates for its versatility.