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La Follette Wines 

A father grows best

click to enlarge JAMES KNIGHT

Until recently, I had no truck with flowery talk about wines being like children. But that was before I spent a few minutes with this guy. "Hi, I'm Greg La Follette," he says with a broad, squinting smile and an accent on the second syllable of his name. The palm of his hand is temporarily tattooed with numbers and calculations, or as he calls it, his "Palm Pilot." He's wearing the same farmer overalls that he's often photographed in, which contain a flashlight, to help peer into barrels, a "dumb phone" that floats, should it land in a fermentation vat, and a penny whistle.

La Follette demonstrates the penny whistle. "I play to my wines," he says. Ha ha. No, seriously, he plays to his wines, citing an academic study in which fermentations were subjected to heavy metal, easy listening and Mozart. The wine from the latter batch turned out best. Earlier in life, La Follete bounced between thinking and feeling—between music, the seminary and science. For a time, he was a professional bagpipe player on the Queen Mary, and later, an AIDS researcher at UCSF. "But everyone that I worked on died," he says. "I just wasn't cut out for that."

The brands that La Follette has been instrumental in creating, like Flowers, or rescuing, like La Crema, are well-known, but this is his first self-titled brand. "I'm kind of reverse-engineering myself," La Follette says of his long experience with Pinot Noir. "We showed that we could get the dog to bark; now we're trying to get it to elucidate." At monthly tastings, held under the olive trees at partner Pete Kight's Quivira Vineyards, La Follette veers easily between esoteric science—describing the macromolecule strategies of yeast cells like some David Attenborough narrating the struggle for life on the Arctic tundra—and mysticism: "What do you want? What are your dreams?" he asks his vineyard sites. "Only when I empty myself do we commingle our dreams."

And, yes, he speaks of wines as children, which are brought up, as the French term élevage suggests, not made. La Follette knows something about that, having six children of his own. His sumptuously textured Chardonnay and Pinot Noir suggest that he wrote the book on mouthfeel—literally, at UC Davis, he wrote the book. Until a tasting room is opened, slated for Sebastopol's Barlow project, these monthly visits offer a freely given glimpse into the mind behind the wines, with a disarming . . . I'd say authenticity, but I have no truck with that kind of talk.

The next "Terroir Tour with Greg" is scheduled for Friday, July 13, 10:30am to noon. 4900 West Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg. $30 per person; call for reservations. 707.395.3902.

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