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La Follette's dream
La Follette Chardonnay

In the mountain passes and open canyons around Sonoma and Mendocino counties in California there are but a handful of optimally cool vineyards suitable for premier Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Overall, the entire region offers the long, cool nights that are perfect for these two varietals. The terroir is rich for the two wines. But still, for optimal coolness -- the kind of growing season that won't yield a harvest until late October or early November, vineyard managers have to look long and hard.

Greg La Follette did just that. In sourcing grapes for his newest vintage of Sangiacomo Vineyard Chardonnay and Sonoma coast Pinot Noir, La Follette culled from his years of experience and chose best possible sites for his grapes.

That's no small task. Vineyards managers and wine makers with years more clout have cherry picked grapes rights and land leases. Still, La Follette did an admirable job nailing down his sites.

The 2009 Chard, a decisive nod to White Burgundy, comes from the fruits of three generations of the Sangiacomo family -- veteran vineyard managers and farmers who coax the terroir into the fruit.

Slow, controlled fermentation brings intense complexity to the wine. The oak regimen shows great restraint and careful monitoring. Balance, acidity and multifaceted character make this an oaked Chardonnay for those who shun oaked juice.

The oak is present, with no doubt, but presented in an Old World style so rarely experienced by predominately New World wine drinkers.

This is elegant, special occasion Chardonnay that deserves attention -- and will show plenty of appreciation back to your palate. Around $29.

Singularly, La Follette Sonoma Coast 2009 Pinot Noir is a fruity mouthful of dark cherry and ripe blackberry. There are hints of spice and dustiness -- classic Pinot Noir characteristics.

It drinks as bold as that first mouthful of freshly picked blackberries. Balanced tannins add to the wine's structure and lead to a lingering, fresh berry finish.

That's by itself. On the day I tasted La Follette, I also tasted four other Sonoma coast and Russian River Pinot Noirs. When standing beside other Pinots -- on either side of La Follette's SRP of $29 -- this wine lacked the opulence, silky mouth feel and complexity of higher end Pinot.

That's not a criticism, it's perfectly juicy casual Pinot Noir. It will face lots of challengers in its price category.