As I wrote earlier, my lovely sister-in-law, Lisa, had mentioned to the WAF crew during last year’s Sonoma adventure that she knew someone who owned a biodynamic winery in Sebastopol. We weren’t able to get in then (schedules didn’t align) but — hurrah! — this time she was able to take me to visit Heidi Lemon, co-owner of Littorai Wines.
But first, I was sent some reading material. Turns out Ted Lemon, Heidi’s husband, and the co-owner and chief winemaker at Littorai, was deemed “Winemaker of the Year,” for 2010 by the San Francisco Chronicle. He’s also one of the founders of the West of West Wine Festival — a yearly event that features some of the finest makers of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir along Sonoma County’s “true coast,” i.e. west of Highway 116. (Far to the left of Sonoma proper — think Occidental, that little hill town we stopped at last year for breakfast at the Howard Station Café.) After reading these articles, I was prepared to be impressed.
But what I was impressed with was wholly different than what I expected. (Which is almost always more satisfying than fulfilled expectations, no?) Yes, we tasted some great pinot noir — including an ’02 bottle that, sadly, wasn’t for sale, but which taught me a lot about the benefits of letting wine, especially a vintage with such complexity and solid structure, age. (This is when that old GN’R song, “Patience,” starts playing in my mind.)
What I was most struck by was the way that the Pivot vineyard — which is also the estate that the Lemon family lives on — felt like a harmonious, self-sustaining eco-system. That’s what you expect from biodynamic farming, of course, as any Rudolph Steiner aficionado, and our own Mudpie, knows. And I loved the biodynamic sample garden which allowed us to see, all in one place, the various plants that contributed to the health of the vines: herbs like valerian and stinging nettle, along with dandelion and chamomile. Not only do these plants attract bees (there are hives on the property too, of course) but are made into tinctures that are sprayed on the plants to help keep them healthy so that they don’t succumb to disease. Think preventative medicine, plant-style.
But while I was checking out the garden, and listening to Heidi talk about their involved composting process and the use of organic manure as their only fertilizer, I couldn’t help but notice two of her three sons, one of whom was making faces at some geese in their portable pen, the other of whom was riding his bike up and down the dirt path leading from the winery’s offices, past the biodynamic sample garden, and down through the vineyards proper. Lisa knows Heidi because her boys went to the same Waldorf school as Lisa’s (Waldorf education was also founded by Steiner, and its principals are based on some of the same scientific-spiritual philosophy as biodynamic farming) and I was suddenly impressed by how the Lemons have found a way to integrate their family life with their passion for winemaking.
I was also struck by their sense of responsibility as stewards of the land, thinking beyond each yearly vintage to future generations; how the decisions they make today not only effect the wine they’re producing now, but the wine that will be produced generations from now, along with the health of the land and the earth in general. Maybe it’s because I’m a mom too — and because parenting and traveling often reveals the strengths, as well as the weaknesses, of the family system — that I was so struck by these things. One of the central conversations of mine & Sober Dad’s marriage is about how to balance all the important elements of our lives: our parenting, our own relationship, our individual creative pursuits, our individual friendships, taking time to do things that nourish & sustain us (like working out or, say, drinking wine!). And sometimes these things feel at odds with each other, even though Sober Dad and I both work from home (something that is as much challenge as blessing.)
Anyway, perhaps it was just the clear Sonoma sky, the beauty of the green vines lined up over the rolling hills as far as the eye could see, my gratitude towards Sober Dad for looking after Double-shot & Lil’ Nip (even though Lil’ Nip had refused to nap that afternoon and was sure to be trouble) so that I could do some wine-tasting, but I was truly inspired by the idea of bringing my life into harmony, finding a way to make my creative/intellectual pursuits not seem so at odds with my family life. And then, it was time to taste some wine.
We sampled a 2008 Charles Heintz Vineyard Chardonnay, an ’09 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir that included grapes from a few of the pinot vineyards the Lemons farm, an ’08 Platt Vineyard pinot noir, an ’08 B.A. Thieriot pinot noir, an ’08 Haven Vineyard pinot noir, and an ’02 Cerise Vineyard pinot noir. The Chardonnay was a knock-out — and I say this as someone who is not usually a white drinker, although this summer I seem to have fallen into a Chardonnay habit (more on that in a future post) — oaky and lush without being overwhelming. Of the pinot noirs, the ’02 Cerise was the stand-out, although as I said above, we later learned it was not for sale. But it did give me a sense of how the best pinots might improve with age — cue GN’R again — and why I’ve decided that I’m going to hold onto my bottle of Haven pinot for at least a couple of years. Heidi told us that we had no obligation to buy, but I couldn’t resist since the wines we tasted seemed so of their time and place. (The Platt, Thieriot, and Haven pinots were all single vineyard, and they had such distinctive tastes that I think I finally understand, for the first time, why all this fuss about terroir.) I was torn between the Thieriot, which had a smooth mouthfeel and an interesting, almost spicy taste, and the Haven, which felt darker and more intense (if I had to pull out a tasting note I would say blackberry). I finally decided on the Haven because, what can I say, I was seduced by its dark, mysterious allure. Who knows what the future will bring, where and when I’ll decide to bust it out — all I know is that I’ll make sure Mudpie and Cellar Mouse are there to have a glass.