Cover Story - March 2006

The View from Laetitia

By: Meridith May
Hillside vineyards, inactive volcanoes and the Pacific surround this Central Coast paradise
 
24-year old, own-rooted Pinot Noir vines originally planted for sparkling wines for Maison Deutz. The vines produce concentrated, low yield fruit that is now used for Laetitia’s reserve program.
 
Arroyo Grande is a way cool viticultural area, notably one of California’s coolest, just minutes from the Pacific Ocean, ideal for cultivating Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The narrow east-west valley (about 67 square miles) channels damp, maritime breezes and fog to this Burgundian Eden.

It is French tradition that originated the plantings at Laetitia Winery, when in 1982, the terrain was researched as a suitable site for producing Méthode Champenoise sparkling wines for an Americanized version of Champagne Deutz.

The soils were compared to those in Epernay and Maison Deutz soon blossomed in this Central Coast AVA, planting about 185 acres to Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay. When the winery’s vineyard owner purchased the property in 1997, still wine production became more evident, and owner Jean-Claude tardivat (who renamed the winery after his daughter Laetitia) realized the superior quality of the Pinot Noir grown at his estate.

Just a year later, present owner Selim Zilkha came into the picture as partner, and in 2001, obtained sole proprietorship.


The calcareous soils at Laetitia

Heaven and Earth

Laetitia is all grown up: with 610 acres planted on the 1800-acre estate seeing 280 days of sunshine, ripe, eloquent combinations of Pinot Noir styles express themselves throughout the undulating property.  The philosophy behind the winery management communicates that the vines are situated on six 60-acre vineyards (rather than grouping the 610 acres together), separating them to further delineate the distinct character of the estate’s terroir; 60 percent of that acreage is dedicated to Pinot Noir.

With its three tiers: estate, reserve and single vineyard, Laetitia holds the largest privately owned Pinot Noir plantings in the state.

“The sites certainly dictate the style,” offers Vineyard Manager Lino Bozzano, who drove us on the ridgeline tour, winding through sinuous curves and surging bumps that bordered winter’s dormant vines. He stopped off at a vineyard named “Les Galets” named after the stones that lined the path of its planted rows. Yielding two and a half tons per acre, the aim here is for a quality, 100% estate grown, single vineyard Pinot Noir.

Defined by a concentrated, deeply sensual palate, Les Galets Pinot Noir is almost…well, meaty in its structure. The fruit  - both blackberries and raspberries – sing the praise of this gallant red. You can taste the flinty stone on the finish, an excellent way to remember the lava-like, porous stones integrated in the soil.

Laetitia’s “La Colline” single vineyard Pinot Noir is simply elegant. Translated as “hillside,” the lot is characterized by the plummy, dark mocha and sophisticated length and charm.

 
The hillside vineyards of Laetitia Winery in the Arroyo Grande AVA of California’s Central Coast. The subtle characteristics of a smaller area within a  macroclimate is a mesoclimate (not microclimate). The soil, the lay of the land and the climate has an effect on each other that ultimately determine the character of the wine from that area.


Laetitia Winemaker Eric Hickey toasts a glass with Patterson’s Meridith May, after filming a segment for WINE TV, which will air later this summer on cable and satellite stations.

 
“The sites certainly dictate the style” - Vineyard Manager Lino Bozzano

SIDEBAR 1

All of Laetitia’s wines are from estate-grown, hillside fruit on its Arroyo Grande property. But it’s not just about Pinot Noir. The mineral backed Laetitia Chardonnay is a feminine beauty, with soft floral aromas. This leaner and lighter style reflects Eric Hickey’s nod to a French tradition, but certainly has the Central Coast’s signature of acidity and spice.

SIDEBAR 2

Barnwood Launches a New Look

Laetitia owner Selim Zilkha also owns and operates BARNWOOD Vineyards. It’s the rough, tough back country of Santa Barbara County’s Sierra Madre Mountains that is the home to Barnwood’s premium Bordeaux and Rhone varietals, which thrive in brilliant sunshine and sandy loam soils.

We’ll profile the brand and the buckin’ new look in the April issue of Patterson’s.

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