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Of Severity and Beauty–Littorai Pinot Noir

By Karen MacNeil
February 21, 2017

It’s hard to see biodynamics.

A vintner says his vineyards are biodynamic. But a casual look at the vineyards usually reveals little or nothing. You can’t easily see philosophy. You can’t see what isn’t done. But a visit to Littorai recently was, to continue the metaphor, eye-opening.

Ted and Heidi Lemon’s “integrated farm” looked, felt and, when the bottles were opened, tasted as though something true to the earth was at work.

It was pouring rain when I visited. Spontaneous small creeks that had sprung up rushed toward a handmade wetland reservoir, the water carefully caught to irrigate what looked like several half mile-long compost heaps. From these “fermenting” soggy above-ground bogs, compost teas are made to enrich the vines.

I was taken to the “drying room.” Laid out on a dozen old wooden tables were hundreds of sticks—the drying bark of willow trees, poplar and chamomile. In the spring, the soft leafy green foliage of the trees will be fed to the animals, whose manure in turn will be used to fertilize the vineyard soil. In a pen close by stood Pierre—the large and very regal Primitive Shetland sheep—who didn’t seem all that happy about not being “integrated” with the flock of Shetland girls nearby.

The Lemons chose this piece of ground not only because it could become a fine vineyard but also because it could become a fine farm. (Indeed, before vineyards were planted in this part of Sonoma, the land was covered in orchards and farms). But there was another reason, too–because the site faced west toward the rolling, cold, not-very-pacific winds off the Pacific coast. Littorai means the coasts.

I have always thought of the Littorai pinot noirs as being in the firmament of the top pinots in California. But it wasn’t until I stood in the gray, cold vineyards that day in January that I understood the “trueness” of the wines. They are unadorned. They have a beauty and a severity at the same time—just like the California coast itself.

Littorai makes multiple pinot noirs from both Anderson Valley and Sonoma Coast. Here were the three wines from the tasting that impressed me most. All are available from the winery. (

LITTORAI The Haven Pinot Noir 2014 (Sonoma Coast, CA) $85

As sensual as could be—silky, slippery, earthy. Long lines of rich but elegant flavor. Beautiful hints of spice, red fruits, and worn leather.

LITTORAI One Acre Pinot Noir 2014 (Anderson Valley, CA) $85

Many Littorai pinots show a lot of structure—acid and tannin—when they are young. With time, they often unfurl and expose their beautiful core of fruit. Right now, this wine is mostly unyielding, but I think it also hints at what’s to come.

LITTORAI Cerise Vineyard 2014 (Anderson Valley, CA) $75

A soaring sense of structure, but there’s lightness and fragility to this pinot at the same time.  Vividly precise, with notes of tar and roses (almost like Barolo). An older vintage which was also tasted –the 2007— had unfurled into rich, spicy madness.

Littorai Wines