The search for great Pinot leads to Sonoma
Jean-Charles Boisset has vivid memories of his first trip to California. He remembers the thrill of being an 11-year-old from Burgundy, France in the United States, driving across the Golden Gate Bridge and sampling the local wines with his parents and grandparents back at the hotel.
“I remember saying to my sister Nathalie, ‘wouldn’t it be great to come back and make wine here’,” Boisset recalled.
He got his wish in 2003 when he orchestrated the purchase of De Loach Vineyards in the Russian River Valley region of Sonoma County. The dynamic president of Boisset Family Estates has gone on to acquire other prominent Californian wineries, notably Raymond Vineyards and Buena Vista Winery.
How have fellow Burgundian winemakers reacted to your expansion into California? Burgundians live in that microcosm and that’s all there is. They tend to think there’s only Burgundy. But there are other places around the globe — like the Russian River Valley — where it is possible to create great Pinot and Chardonnay. Elegant wines that are silky (in texture), with refined personality and incredible identity.
How has your experience in Burgundy influenced the approach to winemaking at De Loach Vineyards? We’re trying to do phenomenal Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays at De Loach and bring them to the rest of the world along with Zinfandel. All of the vineyards at De Loach are organic and biodynamically farmed. We use sorting tables, but more important was bringing open top wood fermenters from Burgundy that are 25 to 30 years old — we shipped 30 of them intact — that really turned things more classic and created wines with character and personality. Having patience, using a slow and gradual fermentation with indigenous yeast makes the wines feel comfortable and very sexy.
What prompted you to embrace Cabernet Sauvignon and the Napa Valley? When you are in Sonoma, why not get to Napa? When you make Pinot and Chardonnay, why not try and make Cabernet? Personally I have very little experience doing Cabernet, which is why it was fun to team up with the Raymond family, which has five generations of experience in Rutherford, the oldest appellation in the Napa Valley. The result is robust wines with huge personality.