Terroir 101 – Ladera Vineyards Tasting at Sunfish Cellars

Terroir is a frequent topic of conversations with wine drinkers and wine marketers, but what is it really about? In it’s simplest form, terroir is described as a wine tasting uniquely like the place it was grown, including a reflection of the particular soil and growing conditions that particular season.  Terroir can be obscured by the winemaker.  In fact, many winemakers feel the responsibility to compensate for all the variables of the soil and season so the wine tastes consistently “good” (the same) from year to year.

Last week, we had the chance to experienceterroir first hand.  Sunfish Cellars, a wine shop in Lilydale, hosted Ladera Vineyards for a tasting.  Lilydale is a bit out of the way if you live in the west metro, but it certainly is worth a trip.  They have a really nice selection of wines in the wine shop, and they also have a really interesting wine / cheese bar.

Sunfish Cellars in Lilydale, south of St. Paul

The shop has a very nice upstairs area for gatherings like a tasting.  This session was free, they only asked for signups so they could gauge the number of attendees.

Ladera is still a family owned winery, increasingly rare in Napa Valley.  Dan Stotesbery, is a son of the founders/owners of the winery and their national sales rep.  Dan gave us a really nice explanation of their story and their Minnesota roots.  Contrary to many wineries in Napa Valley, they take a mostly natural approach in the vineyards and in the winery.  Consequently, Ladera wines show a bit more restraint than many Napa wines.  We had the opportunity to taste through their full lineup, which was a real treat.

Dan Stotesbery, a member of the family, told us the Ladera story

All Ladera wines come from estate vineyards owned by the family.  Their Pinot Noir comes from a vineyard in Sonoma in the Russian River Valley; you wouldn’t expect Pinot Noir from Napa Valley proper. The remainder are all from Napa vineyards owned by the family.  The wines were all very nice, not super ripe and highly oaked, as many wines from Napa Valley can be.

The full Ladera tasting lineup: Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Napa Valey Cabernet Sauvignon, and two single vineyard Cabs

The highlight of the evening was the opportunity to taste two single vineyard wines side by side.  The two vineyards are separated by 12 miles, and are at opposite ends of the valley.  Both wines are 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, fermented primarily with native yeasts, and are bottled unfined and unfiltered.  They are aged in a bit less than 50% new oak, and the oak doesn’t dominate the flavors of either one.  The two wines were from different vintages; it would have been really nice to try them from the same year to remove that variable.

I tasted the Howell Mountain first.  It was dark fruit, herbs and flowers on the nose; well mannered and refined.  This was a wine I could just smell all evening long.  The flavors continued with dark fruits, nice acidity, and very smooth tannins.  This was a smooth, refined Cabernet.

Next came the Lone Canyon.  Dan prepared the group for the difference between the two wines.  He was spot on, but the Lone Canyon was a bit of a shock.  Taking a sniff of the wine was like getting hit in the nose!  It was really big, brawny, all really dark fruit, smoke, brambles.  The wine was nice, but it was an entirely different animal.  Same winemaker, same grape, 12 miles between the vineyards – amazing.

Two vineyards, twelve miles apart, taste worlds different

Don’t miss the chance to do a side by side comparison of two single vineyard wines, identical grape variety and winemaking.  Terroir will no longer be just a word.

Thanks to Sunfish Cellars for hosting such a nice tasting.  Thanks to Dan Stotesbery for sharing the Ladera story and wines.  Minnesota connection, nice wines.  We’re generally not big Napa Valley fans, but next time we’re in wine country, we’ll be sure to stop in for a visit!

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