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
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.
Very well made Chardonnay and Pinot