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09.09.09

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Phaedra

Lutea Pinot Noir

By James Knight

Not for the sake of rustic decoration do five bottles stand on the flat head of an upturned barrel—it's the only surface available in Lutea's barrel room, just one corner of a building that looks to be a football field in length. Forklifts and cellar workers busily traverse the floor, which on the day before crush is clutter-free, save for errant barrel bungs that are swiftly retrieved—and chewed thoroughly—by a big tail-wagger named Jack. All but hidden behind acres of self-storage and light industry in northwest Santa Rosa, Copain Custom Crush provides a home to the landless, and the low overhead that makes 600-case brands economically feasible for new generation winemakers like Suzanne Hagins. Hagins left the South Carolina restaurant scene in 1998 for harvest in Burgundy; her lilting Charleston drawl hasn't left her yet. Sold on Pinot Noir, she worked in Russian River and Anderson Valley cellars before launching tiny Lutea. Grapes are sourced from organic and biodynamically farmed vineyards, a subtly but emphatically stated principle that's becoming less crunchy by the day, and her wine is made here. The single-clone 2007 Los Carneros Pinot Noir ($35) has a floral nose of violet with leather overtones, fresh plum flavor and is eminently table-friendly (these balanced wines exhibit their diverting charm in between meals, too). With an aroma of pretty red fruit, the 2007 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($35) also shows a complex, vegetable-bouillon take on the genre. Delicious red cherry, plum flavors lead to a fine finish.

Hagins laughs that she's pegged as "that girl who makes the 'feminine Pinot,'" by way of introducing her 2007 Four Barrel Pinot Noir ($40). It's smoky and masculine, for sure, full of blueberry and black cherry with notes of herb and menthol, but bookended by rounded tannin, it ultimately finishes satin-smooth.Hagin's Horse & Plow is a team effort with her husband, and encompasses other organically farmed varietals. The 2008 Grenache ($25), with an irrepressible nose of wild raspberry and cedar that jumps from the glass, shows the varietal at its fragrant, soft and quaffable best.While Jack the dog surely wouldn't mind more visitors if they threw him a bung, Lutea wines can more easily be found on one of several dozen local restaurant wine lists. There must be something about Lutea, if only the evocative, feminine name after all, that initially interests diners; after that, they can scarcely be disappointed.

Lutea Pinot Noir, 707.592.0568. By appointment only. www.luteapinotnoir.com.


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