La Follette Wines grew out of Greg La Follette’s Tandem label that he founded in 2001. He met Pete and Terri Kight in 2008, and the couple bought Tandem, folding it into a new winery and label that generously carried the winemaker’s name. I tried three of the winery’s five pinot noirs; La Follette also makes a roster of chardonnays. Many of these wines are made from high-altitude vineyards that seem to lend power and individuality to the product, while not straying too far from the pinot noir grape’s inherent elegance. Well, not too far.

The engraving that decorates the labels of La Follette wines is derived from a rare 19th Century French winemaking manual, though for this purpose the implement the vigneron was holding has been supplanted by a magic wand.

These wines were samples for review.
The Van Der Kamp Vineyard, farmed on organic principles, lies at 1,400 feet elevation on Sonoma Mountain. My first note on La Follette Van Der Kamp Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Sonoma Mountain, is “This has it all.” The color is dark ruby with a violet-magenta rim; aromas of smoky black cherry, beet-root, cola and cloves, cranberry and rhubarb are layered over new leather and dusty graphite — a bouquet one does not easily forget. In the mouth, this pinot noir is seductively supple and satiny, supporting ripe and spicy (but not overly luscious) black cherry, mulberry and plum flavors in balance with a definitive smack of acidity for liveliness along with subtle, gentling shaping oak from 10 months in French barrels; through the finish, slightly dense tannins stir something earthy and almost tarry. 14.6 percent alcohol. 429 cases. Drink now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $40.
The Mendocino Ridge AVA — American Viticultural Area — established in 1997, is not contiguous, rather it encompasses three similar but disconnected mountain slopes along the coastal range in Mendocino County. It’s a huge region, but fewer than 100 acres are planted to vines, all above 1,200 feet, higher than the fog line. From one of these peaks, located at 2,000 feet, comes La Follette Manchester Ridge Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Mendocino Ridge. One senses the mountain-side origin of the grapes in the wine’s distinct briery, brambly and leather qualities, in the foresty presence that inhabits the finish, in what I have to call tremendous tannin. Fruit is red with a black undertone — red currants and red cherry, rhubarb and mulberry, a hint of black plum — all deeply spiced and macerated, all permeated by cola and cloves and a hint of fruitcake. (It spends 10 months in French oak.) This is, by my lights, frankly large for pinot noir, densely structured, chewy, not exactly syrah-like but pushing the grape to the extreme; still, what can I say? It’s pinot noir; I pretty much like it. 14.7 percent alcohol. 494 cases. Drink now through 2014 to ’16. Excellent. About $50.
La Follette Sangiacomo Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Sonoma Coast, is characterized initially by striking freshness and purity, followed by waves of smoke and exotic spices that imbue aromas of ripe black cherry and blueberry, mulberry and rhubarb. At 15.5 percent alcohol, there’s a lot of power here, and as the wine spends time in the glass it begins to yield evidence of the alcohol and the oak to the detriment of its other virtues, and the first impression of freshness and purity is subsumed by heat and a general sense of imbalance. Perhaps a few years aging, say, through 2013 or ’14, will smooth this wine out and bring integration, but my money would be on the two previous wines. Very Good (for potential). About $40.