La Follette Wines - Science, Art, Love
There is something essentially Californian about Greg La Follette - a surprise when you learn that his early life was spent elsewhere. The characteristics are all there: he’s a little eccentric, big-hearted and brilliant; he embraces family and community with a deep love and quotes Dr. Seuss in sales presentations; and he has made some of the most soulful Pinot Noir and Chardonnay ever produced in the Golden State.
Greg’s winemaking bio is impressive and the path that led him there is totally bizarre.
Greg was born in Iceland and by the age of 17 he had already developed an interest in winemaking. Being a winemaker didn’t seem like a realistic pursuit, so he picked up the bagpipes (yes, the bagpipes). But after a few years he left behind inevitable fame and fortune as a bagpiper to earn a double major in Plant Biology and Chemistry in Southern California before heading north to earn a master’s degree from UC Davis. At Davis, he acquired the technical and scientific background needed to approach winemaking. Texture and mouthfeel in wine became his obsession while working at the student winery, but it was his early winery experiences that really shaped him.
In 1984, while still a student, he worked on the Chardonnay program at Simi with Zelma Long. He left Davis, in 1991, for a chance to work with André Tchelistcheff at Beaulieu. Greg credits Tchelistcheff as his greatest mentor and inspiration and for encouraging him to explore all avenues of winemaking. He took advantage of opportunities to work harvests in Australia as well as California and after a short stint as the winemaker at Jarvis, Greg went to Sonoma Coast’s Hartford Court / La Crema. There he found the terroir that most excites him: the North Coast of California.
Greg’s work put Hartford Court Chardonnay and Pinot Noir on the map in a big way. It also cemented his passion for working with Burgundian varieties from some of California’s coolest terroirs. In 1996, he was hired by Joan and Walt Flowers to be the GM and winemaker of their eponymous new label. At that time, the Sonoma coast was a relatively insignificant region for viticulture -- in fact, Flowers was the first winery established in the AVA -- but there was no doubt the potential was there.
Greg developed Flowers into one of the state’s most highly regarded Pinot producers and is responsible, in part, for the stellar reputation that the Sonoma Coast currently enjoys. Along the way, he collaborated with (and in many cases mentored) some of the greatest minds in winemaking including John Kongsgaard, Paul Hobbs, Dick Graff, Jess Jackson, Andy Peay, Hugh Chappell, Ross Cobb, Jean-Charles Boisset, and Luke Porter-Bass, to name a few.
You will be hard pressed to find anyone as geeky about the science behind the art as Greg. In the vineyard, he’ll expound upon carbohydrate repartitioning and later in the winery, he might elucidate thoughts on the role indigenous yeast play in bio-transforming barrel phenols. It’s fancy science to be sure, but only for art’s sake. For all of the thinking that goes into his winemaking there is an equal amount of feeling, in some cases literally. He loves the physical act of shoveling out tanks post fermentation and during fermentation, he’s been known to strip off his clothes and jump in a tank of Pinot to work the cap and feel varying temperatures. Did we mention his love for risky winemaking?
His mentor André Tchelistcheff once told him the most important thing in life is to “never let winemaking ruin your personal life and pay attention to your children”. These are the words he lives by every day.
Most weeks end with a barbecue consisting of family and friends. It’s a big get together. He and his wife, Mara, have six children, who can often be found lending a helping at the winery or in the vineyards, and there is always a rotating cast of growers, winemaking team members, and friends in attendance. He takes particular pride in his longstanding relationships with his growers. Over the years the Sangiacomos, Van der Kamps, and many other growers have become trusted collaborators and friends. For Greg La Follette and the La Follette wines, it all comes down to a careful blend of science, art, and love.
La Follette Wines
Chardonnay, North Coast -- $19.99
Pinot Noir, North Coast -- $19.99
Pinot Noir, Manchester Ridge -- $48.99
And for your listening pleasure, we present the bagpiping styles of Greg La Follette: