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La Crema Celebrates 40 Years Of Great Chardonnay, Pinot

La Crema Chardonnay 2017, Sonoma Coast

Cost: $22-24

Longevity is somewhat of a rarity among American wine brands. While many French chateaux have been around for more than a century, when an American winery reaches 20 years it’s cause for celebration.

When it gets to 40 years, it shows the winery must be doing something right.

In the case of La Crema, they have done many things right. But the thing they do best is make great wine from cool-climate sites.

That’s how the winery started in 1979 when Rod Berglund explored the rural and unknown Sonoma Coast. He loved the warm days and cool nights because the climate was ideal for pinot noir and chardonnay.

Even though the winery is now operated by Jackson Family Wines, there is still a devotion to small-batch, cool-climate wines.

A great example of this is the La Crema Chardonnay 2017 from the Sonoma Coast ($22-24). It is a great wine for summer because it is so crisp and refreshing, but it is a white wine you can drink all year long because of the rich fruit and complex flavors.

Above all, it is a round, balanced wine with concentrated flavors of lemon, apple and apricot. A crisp acidity gives it a lively and lingering finish.

The grapes come from many vineyards along the Sonoma Coast region, but each vineyard gets special attention.

“We keep every vineyard parcel separate until we blend,” said Head Winemaker Craig McAllister. “When we blend we look for structural components first. Then we look for things that lift the aromatics.”

I asked McAllister why they go to all that trouble. Wouldn’t it be easier to dump all the grapes together and then ferment them?

“We would lose the ability to bring out all these components,” he said in a phone interview. “If we threw all the grapes together it wouldn’t be the same.

“It comes back to commitment to quality, and that being the guiding light at La Crema. The commitment was there in 1979 to explore those cool-climate sites, and the Jackson family has that same commitment. Quality is instilled in us from Day One.”

The wine is 100 percent chardonnay. It is a mix of hand and machine picked that was gently pressed, settled for 24 hours and then racked to barrel for fermentation. The wine spent eight months in oak barrels, primarily French with some American for sweet spice and complexity, with about 17 percent new barrels. The lees in the barrels were stirred one or two times a month.

McAllister said the chardonnay is 90-95 percent barrel fermented.

“That’s important for texture and weight of the wine,” he said. “We probably over-deliver at the price point.”

All this attention to detail brings bright citrus notes from the coastal regions and round, soft flavors from the inland areas. Southern vineyards add fruit and minerality. This is a delightful wine at a great price.

The emphasis on cool-climate sites is important because that means grapes spend more time on the vine. That allows a deeper, more dramatic spectrum of flavors and aromas to develop. And that creates rich and layered wines.

Balance

Many winemakers talk about acid and balance. I asked Craig McAllister, Head Winemaker for La Crema, why acid is so important. 

Craig McAllister

“You can have all the fruit and the best barrels, but if you don’t have acid you don’t have balance, and the wine becomes flabby,” he said. “I’m always looking for the structural components, but without the backbone of the acid, you don’t have much of a wine. Acid keeps the wine more stable.

“Balance and texture are words that come out in all of our tastings and blending sessions. You don’t want to be too far from the center of the fruit/acid spectrum. “Without acid, wine would be as balanced as a bag of hammers.”

Winery: La Crema was founded as a boutique winery, and even though it is now owned by Jackson Family Wines, it still operates like a boutique winery. When Jess Jackson took over the winery in 1993 he raised the quality of the wine even higher than it was.

It is now considered one of the top California producers for pinot noir and chardonnay.

The winery also has bought vineyards in some of the most respected parts of the Russian River Valley, Sonoma Coast, Santa Rita Hills, Green Valley, Fort Ross-Seaview, Mendocino, Carneros, Monterey and Oregon’s Willamette Valley. They tend to focus on cool-climate regions.

“I don’t know of many–if any–other wineries that have as big a footprint in cool climate sites,” said McAllister.

Sustainability is a key focus in the vineyards and in the winery. The California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance has certified the vineyards and winery sustainable. Recycling, composting and minimal chemical intervention are stressed. Solar panels also provide about 65 percent of the electricity needed.

La Crema produces multiple pinot noirs and chardonnays, including some from Oregon; two pinot noir rosés; a pinot gris, and a sparkling brut rosé from the Willamette Valley in Oregon.

After years without a tasting room there is one at the winery’s Saralee’s Vineyard. Fashioned from a 1900 barn that was later converted into a home, it features a back deck that opens out into a hilly section of the vineyard. Using reclaimed wood, glass and other surfaces, it still looks like an old building, but brought up to modern building codes.

La Crema continues to look for new vineyard sites, said McAllister.

“With all of the single-vineyard sites we want them to be distinctive and different,” he said. “I think we’re always looking at what is next. “We are looking for distinctive sites to make a unique wine.”

In 2012 La Crema made a pinot gris from Monterrey and went into Oregon. McAllister said we should soon see their first brut rosé (a sparkling wine) on the wine shop shelves.

“That’s pretty exciting,” he said. “And the 40th birthday is a big deal as well.”

Goes with: My wife Teri and I had this wonderful wine with one of our favorite simple meals: steamed shrimp from Edisto Beach. We just steam a pound of the shrimp we brought back from our last beach trip, add hash browns and a salad and we have a feast.

The La Crema chardonnay is the perfect wine for shrimp, with all the fruit and citrus and the balancing acid matching the shrimp and spicy cocktail sauce.

You could also serve this with lobster, crab or scallops, grilled or in a creamy sauce. Another good bet would be roast chicken, salmon or sea bass. It even could go with a dessert course of dried fruit, apples, honey-roasted pecans or key lime pie.

If you have questions about wine you can email Dennis Sodomka at dennis@bottlereport.com

 

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