Larry and Shirlee Londer of Londer Vineyards crafted their first wine in 2001. Since then, they have received critical scores from the top wine magazines for their Pinot Noirs. They helped Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley become a contender in producing high quality Pinot with the help of their first winemaker, Greg LaFollette. Originally from Denver, Larry practiced ophthalmology and Shirlee ran an optical shop in Albuquerque, New Mexico for 27 years. Their move to Northern California signaled their second careers. Today Londer Vineyards makes wine sourced from within and without Mendocino, but focus their attention on the Anderson Valley.
Your focus is on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the lesser known region of Mendocino. Is that a hard sell given you compete with well-known Carneros and Russian River?
Not really. You need to price the wine consistent with our own area and not try to price it like it was coming from Russian River. The blanket of fog that ordinarily curls up from the coast most summer nights and then burns off during the warm dry sunny days allow the vineyards to produce grapes that slowly develop and ripen. We are one of the coolest of the state’s so-called cool-climate wine regions. This is ideal for growing varietals such as Pinot Noir, Gewurztraminer, and Chardonnay.
You could have chosen many places to start your winery. Why the relatively obscure Mendocino region?
It was affordable. When we were looking, we could not find anything affordable in Sonoma. After visiting the Anderson Valley, we decided this was the place for us. It was just the right climate for growing Pinot Noir and Gewurztraminer and it was one of the most beautiful areas we had ever visited.
Londer is known for excellent Pinot Noir. Why does this grape differ from other varieties so dramatically, and is its moniker as "finicky" an appropriate label?
Pinot Noir has a thin skin, and it is hard to grow due to being susceptible to weather (heat). There is a lot of Pinot Noir grown that is mediocre, which probably reflects the ground where it is grown. You need to plant the correct clones and root stock for the soil and the specific setting.
Specifically how must you tend to your Pinot Noir vines on your property to make consistently solid wines, given your soil and water issues in the Anderson Valley?
We do lots of leaf pulling, done pre-bloom, and we focus on canopy management, keeping our crop yield down to about 2 to 3 tons per acre, and know when to pick. We have planted about 15 acres of Pinot Noir using five different clones, and an acre of Gewurztraminer. Most of the vineyard is on south facing hills with a combination of well-drained sandy loam covering an underlying clay loam. The Navarro River forms our southern boundary and brings the fog right up to our door. Along with our grapes we grow strawberries, olives, plums, figs, tomatoes, a variety of leafy vegetables, lavender and a whole lot of raspberries.
What's your take on using herbicides and pesticides in growing grapes?
We minimize the use of both, but we are not organic.
Wine alcohol levels are on the rise and it is commonplace to see 15 percent wines from Chardonnay to Merlot. Even your diverse Pinot Noirs are over 14 percent. What's your take on alcohol levels these days?
I would love to keep my wines under 13 percent alcohol, but I pick based on flavors and taste, not on sugar. Hence, we have wines over 14 percent. I think that if you continue to work in the vineyard, keeping your yields down, etc., you can get good flavors at lower sugar levels. However, this a goal that we have not yet achieved.
A lot has been written about the 100 point rating scale. Some believed it has empowered consumers, others think it has distorted wine prices, while still others feel it has changed the quality of wines being produced. What, if any, is the long term impact of the 100 point rating system?
The average wine consumer knows little about wine. They buy single bottles and consume them the night they are purchased. For them, some type of guide is helpful, just
like Consumer Reports helps someone buy a TV or car. Some type of rating
system is here to stay and that can be helpful for the consumer. If you are a winery
that consistently gets high scores, then you like it, if not, then you probably
would like it to go away.
What other grape varieties would you like to make that you haven't had the chance to?
I made Sangiovese in 2002 and would like to do that again.
You source Pinot Noir from a variety of different vineyards in your region. Would you prefer to source grapes from your own land exclusively?
No, then each of our different Pinot Noirs (Anderson Valley, Paraboll,
Estate, Corby Vineyard, Ferrington Vineyard) would all taste the same.
Describe the fundamental differences between California Pinot Noir and Burgundy.
Pinot Noirs from California are fruit forward with a big mouth feel versus lighter, aromatic, and more delicate wines in Burgundy.