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How to get along with grapes—and women—according to Greg La Follette

If you’re looking for a great chardonnay—and who isn’t as weather turns warmer?—look no farther than La Follette. Vintner Greg La Follette has two, Sangiacomo 2009 ($29.99) and Manchester Ridge 2008 ($47.99), and both have a seductively creamy mouthfeel, rich fruit, and staying power. You’ll be astounded at how well these wines hold up even a few days after being uncorked. “I make my wines to last,” he said in a recent interview. He tells customers they’re getting two or three bottles in one because of the way it evolves in the glass or decanter. He actually decants his chards. (Try the Sangiacomo on a featured flight this week at Main Street Wine Company in Huntington Beach.)

La Follette honed his craft at Flowers, so you won’t want to miss his pinots either. My favorite is the Manchester Ridge 2008 ($49.99), which comes on sprightly and finishes round. An incredible food wine it will go with salmon, tapas, Italian dishes, and other fare—we liked it with dried cherry-chocolate chip cookies, but you’ll want to save some to drink all by itself at cellar temperature when you’re relaxing on the patio. These wines have subtle complexities that you’ll want to enjoy during laidback, reflective moments, so pencil La Follette into your lazy days of summer.

La Follette says the wine’s incredible flavor starts on the vine, Sangiacomo is in the Sonoma Coast AVA and the Mendocino Ridge AVA is north of that. Mendocino Ridge, where you'll find the Manchester Ridge vineyard, is not a contiguous, solid mass of land. “It’s a series of ridge tops at 2000 feet elevation,” La Follette says. “I call them islands in the sky. You get the full force of the Gulf of Alaska weather hitting this vineyard.” It’s surrounded by fog in the late morning and late afternoon but it gets plenty of sunshine. “It’s like a big refrigerator to keep things cool, you can feel it wafting up. And it’s surreal looking down into the clouds, when it clears away there’s a view of the surrounding valleys and the ocean.”

Like many talented vintners he downplays his styling, but he’s a heavy hitter. His  post graduate thesis topic was how Burgundian techniques affect mouthfeel in wines. And his mentor at Beaulieu was none other than André Tchelistcheff. “One of his greatest sayings to me was ‘Be the wine, become it, imbibe it, live its language, let it wash over you. You don’t steamroll over  it.’”

And that’s still La Follette’s take on achieving the fullest expression of the grapes. It’s like being in a relationship, you let them be, he says. “If I have a gal who’s just fantastic and complex and has a lot of potential for interaction, if I ignore her and impose my will on her without getting to know her first I’m destined to a short or unhappy relationship. I would miss how wonderful she would be if I just took the time to listen to her about what she wants and needs in her life. It’s like with kids too, you can’t squish down too hard on them.”

Taste his wines and you’ll understand he knows what his talking about. As for relationships, he must know all about that too—he’s got six kids.—Anne Valdespino

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