Unlike Gloria Ferrer, whose cool climate terroir is perfect for growing pinot grapes, La Follette, a one-time bagpiper on a cruise ship who later turned to chemistry, says a stint at a rabbinical clown school would have been easier than to work with pinot noir grapes, a task he ultimately succumbed to in 1984. “It’s not called the heartbreak grape for no reason,” says La Follette, whose passion for the varietal grew under the tutelage of André Tchelistcheff, the late master of the grape at Beaulieu Vineyards.
La Follette says it helps that his wines, like those of many artisan winemakers, tend to be more euro-centric than the typical fruit-forward pinot noir and over-oaked chardonnay varietals Americans typically identify from larger California winemakers. “My wines have a little higher acidity; they’re less reliant on big alcohol, dark fruits, and jamminess,” says La Follette. “My approach is less ‘take them by force’ and more of a subtlety and balance thing.”
The ninth largest wine company in the world and a small boutique winery might make their wine differently, but their passion is evident in their product. “Real winemakers never retire,” La Follette insists. “We die with our boots on ... and, hopefully, with a glass of pinot in our hands.”