White Wine Club
White Wine Club - June
This month, we offer an amazing wine from Ted Lemon at Littorai; Littorai Chardonnay, Heintz Vineyard.
The 2008 Chardonnay Charles Heintz Vineyard (a well-known site planted with old Wente clones that Ted Lemon was the first to exploit) exhibits terrific notes of honeyed citrus, unbuttered popcorn, peaches, white currants and quince with wet stone-like characteristics in the background. Medium to full-bodied and complex, this beautiful white should drink nicely for 7-8 years.
Winemaker/proprietor Ted Lemon has one of the most impressive resumes in California having produced Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs in that state as well as previously working in Burgundy. His wines consistently represent the best of California’s ripeness combined with Burgundy’s finesse and elegance. His Chardonnay vineyards are all planted in cool micro-climates and his wines are all beautifully made, crisp, elegant, flavorful whites.
Ted Lemon’s story is quite unique among California winemakers. The origins of his interest in wine can be traced to a study-abroad program at the University of Dijon in Burgundy while still a high school student. The director was so impressed with Lemon, he offered him a job if ever decided to take up winemaking. After graduating from Brown University, he was awarded a fellowship to return to France in the fall of 1980 to study viticulture and enology. He apprenticed in several famous Burgundy domaines including Dujac, Roumier, and Bruno Clair. When funds ran dry, he returned to the United States where he worked with Josh Jensen at Calera Winery.
In 1982, while at Calera Winery, he was surprised by a phone call from Jacques Seysses of Domaine Dujac who asked him, “How would you like to make Meursault?” At Domaine Guy Roulot in Meursault, one of the oldest and most traditional wineries in Burgundy, Guy Roulot had died and his family was searching for another winemaker. The Roulot family sought the advice of Jacques Seysses. “Of all the apprentices I have had, and I have had many,“ Jacques Seysses told Madame Roulot, “none have been as bright and as capable as Ted Lemon. He has so many fine qualities, but there are two problems. He is 25-yearsold, and he is American.” Although Madame’s first reaction was “impossible,” after consulting with Aubert de Villaine, Patrick Bize, and others, she offered to make him the first (and to this day, the only) American winemaker and vineyard manager in Burgundy’s history. Lemon arrived at Domaine Roulot in 1983 (photo right).
Because lemon spoke French fluently, he was able to assimilate and overcome the initial surprise and skepticism of the village people. He said, “At first I had to prove myself physically to the cellar and field help. I had to prune as quickly, drive a tractor as well, and work as hard as they could. And I had to prove to Madame Roulot, who was so devoted to Guy, that I could keep up the reputation of his wines.” Lemon made very good wines and quickly became accepted by the locals.
After two years at Domaine Roulot, he was lured back to the United States by a French family that had purchased a vineyard on Howell Mountain above the Napa Valley. Their intent was to produce a French-style Chardonnay in California. The land here had been first planted in 1877 with vines from the Medoc region of France. Jean Adolphe Brun and W. J. Chaix were the original French owners and they built the Howell Mountain Winery on the property in 1866. It became Chateau Woltner in the mid-1980s and it was here, in 1985, that Lemon oversaw renovations of the aging winery and became the vineyard manager as well as winemaker. Chateau Woltner’s Chardonnays soon became a favorite among American wine connoisseurs.
With his winemaking skills honed and assured, Lemon and his wife Heidi founded Littorai in 1993. He had spent a summer with his wife driving up and down the Pacific Coast tasting local wines and learning about the soil and history of the local vineyards. Lemon had a firm belief in terroir inspired by his years in France. According to Lemon, “I believe soil is of major importance in a wine’s character. It’s clear there are tremendous differences between wines made from vineyards right next to each other even if they are vinified and treated exactly the same way.” Finally, Lemon settled on sourcing his grapes from vineyards in western Sonoma and western Mendocino counties. He believed the finest Pinot Noir and Chardonnay were grown along the true coastal zone of the continent. He was convinced that the geology and mesoclimates of the extreme western portion of the continent north of San Francisco were diverse enough to create a series of unique terroirs, each with its own characteristics. He named his new venture Littorai which is a pleural noun formed from the Latin word litor-, which means the coasts. The word Littorai, with its reference to geography, reminds us that wine, the noblest agricultural product, arises from the weave of place (vineyard), time (vintage), and man.
His vineyard sources are all carefully supervised by Ted who is a strong believer in sustainability and biodynamie. Pinot Noir vineyards include Summa, B.A.Thieriot, Pratt, The Haven and Hirsch on the Sonoma Coast, Mays Canyon in the Russian River Valley, and Savoy, One Acre, Cerise, and Roman in the Anderson Valley. (Both Summa and Cerise were sold in 2010 so they may not be future sources). He is developing a couple of vineyards himself as well, including an estate vineyard adjacent the winery, The Pivot Vineyard.
His Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays are highly lauded and age worthy. They are only sold through a mailing list and to restaurants. I consider some of the Pinot Noirs among the finest I have ever drunk from the New World. Ted finished a 10,000 case winery on his estate in Sebastopol in 2009 and accepts visitors by appointment. Production is about 4,000 cases annually.
RECIPE Pan-Roasted Halibut with Grits, Melted Leeks and Morels Serves 4
This dish is not only visually beautiful, but fantastically rich, flavorful and satisfying at the same time. An ideal main course for a formal gathering.
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 2 cups water
- 2 garlic cloves, sliced
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup coarse grind grits
- 1 cup parsley leaves
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 leeks, white parts only, sliced ¼ inch thick and washed
- ½ tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
- 1 1/4 cups vegetable stock
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 3/4 pound fresh morels, stems trimmed, cut in half if large
- 1/4 cup sherry
- 4 thick halibut fillets, about 6 ounces each
Bring the cream, water and garlic just to a boil. Turn off heat and infuse for 20 minutes. Strain out the garlic, and add the cream mixture back to the pan. Season and bring to a boil. Slowly stir in the grits, reduce the heat and simmer until the grits are tender and cooked through. Add up to 1 cup water when grits get too thick. Cooking time will depend on the type of grits used.
For the gremolata: finely chop the parsley, garlic and lemon zest together. Place in a small bowl, stir in the olive oil, cover and set aside.
Cook the leeks over low heat in a large saute pan with a little butter, salt and pepper until very tender. Add a little chicken stock every so often to prevent the leeks from sticking to the pan. Add the chopped parsley and mustard, stir and remove from the heat. Keep warm until ready to serve.
Rinse the morels in a bowl of cold water, drain and gently pat dry. Heat a large saute pan over high heat and add a little olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the mushrooms and cook, stirring, until the mushrooms have released their liquid and the pan is dry. Deglaze the pan with the sherry and cook until dry. Add about ½ cup of stock and reduce by half. Stir in a tablespoon of butter, and season with salt and pepper. Set the pan aside and keep warm.
Remove the fish from the fridge 30 minutes before cooking. Season the fillets. Heat a large non-stick pan with some olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the fillets and cook skin down until golden brown and crispy. Turn and cook 1 to 2 minutes until cooked through.
Divide the grits among 4 large bowls. Place the halibut on top of the grits. Spoon one-fourth each of the mushrooms and leeks over the fish, followed by a spoonful of gremolata, and serve.