Operative: Agent Red
Objective: Infiltrate Lucas J. Cellars and secure an exclusive allocation of their delicious, single vineyard, Russian River Valley Pinot Noir.
Mission Status: Accomplished!
Current Winery: Lucas J. Cellars
Wine Subject: 2007 Jasper Family Vineyard Pinot Noir – Russian River Valley
Winemaker: Lucas J. Meeker
Backgrounder: The Russian River Valley, in Sonoma County, produces Pinot Noir of remarkable distinction. The cooler maritime conditions of the region make the Russian River Valley ideal for growing Pinot Noir. The Russian River Valley in Sonoma is particularly well suited to producing exceptional Pinot Noir. This AVAwas officially designated in 1983, but many of the wines in the region used the designation as early as the 1970s (early in California’s wine history) with the many of the vines having been first planted in the early 1900s.
Look – Dark garnet hues, with even color concentration, from from core to edge. The core of the wine shows darker and slightly opaque. After swirling this wine, short, thin, wine-stained legs run slowly down the glass.
Smell – Black cherry, wild strawberry, dark leather, black tea leaf and dark brown spice take an aromatic lead. As the wine breathes in the glass, opening up to reveal bramble, sweet cedar, dried black flower petals and a hint of clove.
Feel – Soft and very round, on entry. Then, as the wine gains dimension and weight as it settles onto the mid-palate. There, plush, integrated tannins produce a softly grippy feel that spreads a slowly-moving dryness around the palate.
Taste – Black cherry, wild blackberry, black plum, soft spice and sweet cedar lead off. As the wine opens, wild strawberry, India black tea leaf, red currant and subtle clove emerge.
Finish – Dark, full, flavorful and long, with sustained black and red fruit that gradually yields to earthy flavors of tea leaf, cedar and spice.
Conclusion – Today’s 2007 Lucas J. Wines Jasper Family Vineyard Pinot Noir – Russian River Valley is a lush, flavor-filled wine that our tasting panel really went wild for. This wine is bold, juicy and delicious, with an elegance an balance that gives this very approachable wine a very broad appeal. Well-structured, balanced and lively, we find this Pinot Noir to be an easy companion to most foods. We’d recommend pairing with a roasted pork loin, a grilled Ahi steak, or grilled oysters. Decant for at least 20 minutes, for best results, and be rewarded with deeper flavors and aromas. This stellar 2007 earns our heartiest Wine Spies recommendation. Drink now, but be sure to lay a few bottles down for the next few years.
WINEMAKER INTEL BRIEFING DOSSIER_
SUBJECT: Lucas J. Meeker
WINE EDUCATION: I grew up in the wine industry. My parents started The Meeker Vineyard, where I work full time as Co-Winemaker with my dad. I’ve learned from a combination of experience, self-education, and a lot of people who came before me, including my dad. But long story short, I was raised in a winery.
CALIFORNIA WINE JOB BRIEF: I’ve been working for The Meeker Vineyard since I was old enough to see over the bar. I started Lucas J. Cellars with the 2007 vintage. When I returned home from college in 2007 I started working at the winery in various roles. In 2009 I became Assistant Winemaker, then in 2010 Co-Winemaker. In 2011 I became COO as well. I also consult for a couple very small projects on the side. And I make the wine for Lucas J. Cellars.
WINEMAKING PHILOSOPHY: I believe in making wines that drink big but with balance, that illustrate both where they are from but also winemaking style. Moreover, I believe that wine can be both affordable and something very special. I think that honesty about product and practices is of the utmost importance, and I’d rather tell you the truth than a marketing fluff story every single day.
WINEMAKER QUOTE: ”rpmgwftrr. (I don’t give up the meaning of this acronym easily, so keep it a secret: real people making great wines for the right reasons).”
FIRST COMMERCIAL WINE RELEASE: First release was January of 2009, of wines from 2007 vintage. This wine was one of the two released that day.
AGENT RED: Greetings, Lucas. We are thrilled to be showing your 2007 Lucas J. Cellars Jasper Family Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir today. Thanks so much for taking some time to answer questions for our Operatives today.
LUCAS MEEKER: No sweat, happy to share it. This is a special wine to me: the first Pinot Noir I ever made. I’ve kept my side-project label as a quiet secret for a while now, and it’s exciting to show off what I can do to some new people.
RED: Was there a specific experience in your life that inspired your love of wine?
LUCAS: I grew up in a winemaking family. To me, this was never inspired so much as it is just part of who I am and where I’m from. My dad learned his love of wine from his dad, and I learned mine from him. It’s a vicious cycle.
RED: What wine or winemaker has most influenced your winemaking style?
LUCAS: My dad has taught me a lot, but he’s never made a commercial Pinot Noir, so in searching for inspiration and information in the Pinot world, I’ve had to explore elsewhere. I think one of the most important parts of the wine industry is acknowledging that the variety of wines, styles, and regions and the varied wines that result from the endless combinations of those variables is something to embrace and be part of, as opposed to holding your wines on a pedestal as above the rest. And while I don’t model my wines after any other winery’s style, I’ve certainly been influenced by other wineries’ great execution of Pinot Noir. Specifically, my Pinot Noir a-ha moment was probably tasting Patz and Hall’s 2005 Pisoni Vineyard Pinot Noir. I was so bored with the fruit-bomb-with-no-structure Pinots that were trendy in 2005-7 that the P&H really caught me off guard and made me excited about the grape again. This wine was part of what inspired me to make Pinot Noir.
I’ve also been influenced by some really fantastic people in the Pinot world who have been gracious and selfless with their time and energy. Brian Loring’s commitment to his values and style are admirable, and I learned a lot from his forthrightness and eagerness. Jeff and Mark Pisoni have been great sources of knowledge and awesome to work with, always willing to let me harass them… to the point where I’m even getting some fruit out of them. Mike Sangiacomo sets a gold standard for farming, and working with him is invaluable. The wines at Moshin, P&H, Loring, Ken Wright, Torii Mor, ROAR, Vision Cellars, Lucia, and a whole lot of others have been great to learn from and to enjoy.
And I can’t go without saying that my dad’s untamed permanent desire to experiment, learn, and perfect have been enormously influential. And so has my mom’s ability to put up with it, and keep him in line without his knowing.
RED: Who do you make wine for?
LUCAS: People who appreciate quality, and honesty, and interesting wine experiences. But most importantly: I like to think I make wine for everyone, in other words, I think that perhaps the most noble pursuit in the wine industry is not just to make the best wine, but to make the best wine that is accessible and fairly priced.
RED: Please tell me a little bit about the wine we are featuring today.
LUCAS: This is an awesome, high-elevation-for-Russian-River-Valley vineyard that grows powerhouse Pinot Noir. The vineyard is less than 5 acres and is split between Chard and Pinot, and is planted to a mix of Dijon clones (I don’t have them at hand, but my recollection is 113, 115, and 667). The vineyard gets full sun, ripens early, and yields just over 2 tons/acre. This first vintage was an experiment in building big, structure driven Pinot Noir from California that could age with the best of them. As a result, maximum phenolic extraction was exercised: 8 punchdowns per day, 2 week extended maceration, and a 40% new French Oak program for 11 months in barrel. This is big, big, big Pinot Noir. But don’t misunderstand: when I say big I mean in structure and tannin. The wine is well under 15% alcohol and has no residual sugar. The wine was bottled unfiltered and has been aging at 60 degrees Farenheit since then.
RED: What is your favorite pairing with today’s wine?
LUCAS: Pork. What flavor is up to you. If you have wild boar, throw a shoulder in the slow cooker with root vegetables and tomatoes and let it roll for 8 hours. Provencal herbs, some wine, etc. Enjoy.
RED: In your opinion, what makes the Jasper Family Vineyard such a special place for Pinot Noir?
LUCAS: I think because it’s kind of the polar opposite of what people expect from Russian River Valley Pinot Noir: it’s above the fog belt and sees big heat, and develops big, primary fruit character and great tannin and color. The wine is inky, fruity, and big as a result. The vineyard is at the crest of a big hill/small mountain and sees sloping in all directions, so the vineyard is terraced in multiple directions and has excellent drainage. This, combined with the varied clones, builds complex wines with many layers of character and great structure, color, and age worthiness.
RED: What is occupying your time at the winery these days?
LUCAS: Everything! We’re getting ready for harvest, trying to finish some bottling in advance of the onslaught, and planning for the future while setting up our fall sales pushes.
RED: How would you recommend people approach your wines and wine in general?
LUCAS: With an open mind. Part of what makes wine fascinating is what is different about a wine. Instead of comparing wines against an ideal, I like to compare wines to… well, themselves. Part of what I value and attempt to do with my wines is illustrate what is possible with a given varietal or vineyard, and sometimes the goal with the same varietal at two vineyards might be very different. I approach winemaking with an open mind to the possible potential of any fruit, and then I try and maximize the quality and value from that fruit. I hope that people approach my wines similarly, with an open mind to the differences and a desire to enjoy them, as opposed to dismiss them.
RED: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
LUCAS: Not that I can think of, but I’m more than willing to answer any and all questions. Don’t be shy.
RED: Thank you so much for your time. We learned a lot about you – and your wine. Keep up the great work, we are big fans!