La Crema Winery, Russian River Valley
wine pixies

La Crema Winery

Melissa Stackhouse shows a species of smile—a touch shy and yet fresh and alive—that morphs into seriousness as soon as the subject of winemaking comes up. Once she opens up, it becomes apparent very quickly that it is as impossible to separate Melissa from her terroir, primarily Sonoma's Russian River Valley, as it would be for the wines she crafts for La Crema Winery. We discuss origins. Melissa hails originally from Michigan “which is a little too cold for my taste,” she tells me. Once she got the wine bug, she took a degree in Viticulture and Enology from UC Davis, gained some experience, and eventually zeroed in on cool-climate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir at La Crema. “Fruit intensity is paramount,” she explains before we taste a flight of six wines, “all in balance.”

I met Melissa for lunch in Manhattan. I don't really remember the meal, since it was eclipsed by that afternoon's intersection of coordinates (my personal English-language substitute for terroir). See it this way: combine a winemaker from Michigan, grape varieties (and in fact clones) from France, oak barrels from France, erudition and motivation from Davis, personal experience, and the tradition of the winery, and you arrive at something irreproducible. Four of the six wines express that individuality in the Russian River Valley, two in Carneros, yet all six play to a theme: elegance and finesse, with fine fruit.

The 2008 La Crema Los Carneros Chardonnay, $30, hails from vineyards a bare three miles from San Pablo Bay. My nose enjoyed a nice lemon and mineral mix with stone and tropical fruit on the palate. French oak, used with restraint, contributes to a satisfying mouthfeel. Long and clean.

The 2008 La Crema Russian River Valley Chardonnay, $30, has an entirely different character from its Carneros cousin, a nicely floral nose with caramelized pastry crust, apple and spice on the palate, warm peach with toasty oak on the finish.

The 2007 La Crema Nine Barrel Chardonnay, $70, sees a limited production of only 200 barrels, with a 14 month stay in 40% new French oak. Seductive nose with cream and floral, a mouth-filling palate with firm acidity, the wine takes you on an arc and finishes well. Touches of lime from first attack to finish are noteworthy.

The 2008 La Crema Los Carneros Pinot Noir, $38, has got a rich nose of black cherry and baking spice. On the palate ripe fruit, more black than red, works in tandem with a good balance of acidity and tannin. In one direction, this wine offers an occasional tang of red cherry and a touch of pomegranate; in another, ripeness is the theme. Well-crafted, direct, and fruit-forward when it needs to be.

The 2008 La Crema Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, $40, has a decidedly floral nose: rose petal and violet, with orange zest and a touch of citrusy spice. Plenty of fruit on a plush palate, with notes of cocoa and nutmeg, and velvety tannins. Cherry fruit stars at the finish.

The 2007 La Crema Nine Barrel Pinot Noir, $90, is well rounded and ripe. I noted and particularly enjoyed kernel notes of tobacco and coffee, black cherry fruit and baking spice. Medium-bodied. Tannins in this one still have a burr to them, a delight to my palate but a signal for cellaring for some drinkers. Not to be gulped.

Verdict: Very well made Chardonnay and Pinot

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Sonoma's Russian River Valley is already on the fine wine map.

food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman

food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award

La Crema Russian Rivery Valley

La Crema's Russian River Valley Vineyards

Melissa Stackhouse La Crema Winemaker

La Crema's Winemaker, Melissa Stackhouse

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