A look at the wines created by Greg La Follette.
By Louis Marmon
Gazette Newspapers January 23, 2008
In a temporary looking office of a converted apple processing plant, a beaming Greg La Follette holds an elongated glass tube in purple-stained hands.
‘I just finished tasting the lees,” says the noted winemaker while offering the tube for further examination.
‘‘Andre Tchelistcheff taught that it was the way to know what was going on in the barrels. Not many people do it though,” he adds. That is not surprising since the lees are comprised of dead yeast, grape skins, seeds and other fermentation detritus.
A self-confessed science geek, La Follette did his thesis work on yeast cell biology at the University of California Davis. His resume includes stints at Kendall-Jackson, Beaulieu, DeLoach, and most recently, as general manager and winemaker at Flowers, considered one of Sonoma’s finest producers of pinot noir. His newest project is Tandem Winery, where he is combining techniques learned in Burgundy and his science background to create wines with distinctive characteristics, particularly ‘‘mouth-feel.”
Tandem does not grow its own grapes and La Follette is rightfully proud of the close relationships they have with several family farms that allow them to acquire high-quality fruit. But what he really wants to talk about is yeast.
‘‘It’s the stress response of the yeast cell walls that produce the elements I am looking for,” says La Follette, who will subtly change the fermentation milieu to obtain the desired compounds. He describes his winemaking as ‘‘entering into a deep dialogue with yeast.”
La Follette receives similar pleasure from the winemakers he has mentored.
‘‘You are only as good as your last wine,” he notes, ‘‘but I would like to be judged by the winemakers that I trained. I like helping to make good winemakers.”
His latest releases are noteworthy for their texture, flavor profile, balance and structure.
The delicious Tandem Porter Bass Chardonnay 2004 ($42) is created from biodynamically farmed Musque and Wente clones grown south of the Russian River and aged in one-third new French oak barrels. Its floral, butterscotch aromas lead into lush lemon, pear and vanilla flavors with a lingering finish.
Produced from one of Sonoma’s coldest areas, the Sangiacomo Vineyard Chardonnay 2005 ($38) is another gem and the most obvious example of La Follette’s vision of mouth-feel. It begins with rich, complex floral and peach scents, then creamy apricots and apples added in the middle and a note of minerals during the long ending.
More subtle in style is the Tandem Kent Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay 2005 ($45) that has pleasant smoky oak in the beginning that leads into layers of lush flavors including grapefruit, floral and butter, with a similar minerality at the close.
The current entry-level red wine blends eight different varietals, including 12 percent usually only found in white wine because ‘‘there are no rules.” The Peleton 2005 ($25), La Follette’s ‘‘fun wine,” has cherry and spicy raspberry flavors with enough complexity to make you reach for another glass.
Things get more serious with the pinot noirs created from grapes grown at different locations on Sonoma Mountain. From a vineyard near the base, the excellent Tandem Sangiacomo Pinot Noir 2005 ($48) has exotic spice and earth scents along with mouth-filling dark cherry and berry flavors, hints of tobacco and smoke. Crafted from grapes grown in red rock at 1300 feet, the Tandem Van de Kamp Pinot Noir 2005 ($48) is equally pleasurable, yet more muscular. The earthy red berry and raspberry flavors are deeper, and more notable tannins hold promise for further development over the next five to seven years.